Archive for the ‘best restaurants in the world’ Category

Event: Lunch at restaurant Le Louis XV, Monte Carlo
When: Saturday September 21 2013, 12:15
Michelin stars: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute Classic  Provençale (with North Italian touches)
Addr: Hôtel de Paris, Place du Casino, MC 98000 Principauté de Monaco
Phone: +377 98 06 88 64
Url: http://www.alain-ducasse.com/en/restaurant/le-louis-xv-alain-ducasse

ImageI am a bit busy with other things, so sorry for keeping this brief. In a nutshell: I went back to two old personal favourites that I have not visited for many years, 3 star Michelin L’Arpège in Paris ( reviewed here) as well as 3 Star Michelin Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo (current review).

Perhaps the most beautiful old-world interior, for a fine dining restaurant. Certainly a pastry team, a service,  cheeses and bakers of world class mention. But the Louis XV needs to be more assertive with their savoury recipes. Alain Ducasse’s praises of their beautiful produce, eating healthy and natural  is not enough: the savoury dishes lacked  “joy” and whatever the philosophy…if your savoury dishes are  not “festive” in mouth, then what you preach is meaningless to your diners. Alain, I know that    “extracting the most out of the least” is what you hope your Chefs would achieve and that  …  can be  great,  indeed,  as widely demonstrated by the superb “minimalist” savoury dishes in nearby Italy,  but that  was a “distant wish”   during this  visit  at  Le Louis XV (your savoury dishes were not bad, not great neither and certainly not as exciting as what many of your peers are pulling off right now …) –   

 

I was with my wife, so the report will  benefit from  the better pictures (than those of my humble pocket camera) of her more sophisticated camera as well as her additional views. Please find below the usual ‘Pros’, ‘Cons’, Overall ‘food’ and ‘service’ scores.  A month after my meals, I always add  a ‘What I think a month later’ section  that you’ll see completely at the bottom of each of my reviews, so that you’ll get a feel of how my perception of my meal has evolved in time.

ImageThe meal started with their long time offering of crudités (carrots, celery, radish, etc),  typical of  the region as it could remind a bit  of nearby  Nice’s raw vegetables served with an accompaniment of sauce (Nice’s bagna caùda). A fun idea, I have to give that to them, since it showcases the vegetables of the region, but this kind of serving  really shines if the vegetables are going beyond the ordinary: those were as good as any celery or carrot or radish I was sampling all along my stay on the French Riviera.  But the dip  (made of olives and egg, emulsified with oil like a mayonnaise) was a benchmark of its kind, with glamourous texture and a depth of  taste as rich  and as exciting in mouth as it gets. I do not know if that was wowness..I just know that you won’t easily find dips of this level.  It’s for creations of this kind that I go to restaurants.

ImageThey are known for their lovely bread offerings, of which I picked a pain baguette (Yep, I am a huge fan of Pains Baguettes, and do expect them to be at their best on the  grand  tables of France  and this one was no exception  as they have baked an excellent one by the finest artisan Boulanger standards that I am used to, in France 9/10), and tomato bread (7/10 too salty to be enjoyable and the tomato flavor was not as stunning I would have liked).

ImageVelouté rafraichi de courgette trompette, homard bleu court-bouillonné, caillé de brebis – A cold velouté of courgette trompette  (courgette trompette is a type of squash), adorned with a piece of boiled lobster and sheep’s curd. Delicious idea as I have   sampled many exciting versions of this kind of velouté mixed with sheep’s curd, but this dish, although well done as expected at this level of dining, had flavors too discrete  (the velouté, the sheep’s curd, and even the lobster) to make any great impression, for me. The velouté itself would benefit from a richer taste, the sheep’s curd from more expressive milky flavor. Both my wife and I thought that it was designed to not shock ( for eg, the lobster had no aggressive marine robustness so that it harmoniously complements the mild tasting velouté and  sheep’s curd) with strong flavors so that it  reaches out to the most. We respect the harmoniously calibrated flavors but had no fun.  I am not asking for the moon, and do remain very realistic, trust me, …couple of days before, in nearby Nice, a simple bistrot like Bistrot D’Antoine blew me away with food as simple as this.    6/10

ImageCookpot de petit épautre, girolles et jeunes légumes – Cookpot of tiny spelt, girolle mushrooms,  vegetables (radish, artichoke, carrots). It was cooked in a stock of carrots and parsley, some barley added to the mix. Nice sweet/salty sensation, but dishes cooked this traditional way do usually deliver lingering aromas that I failed to enjoy with this serving. For example, parsley and carrots express themselves beautifully using pot cooking techniques, but on this dish  they ended being discrete to my palate.  Again, another classic dish executed properly (there won’t be any technical fault to be noticed here), but a dish like this should be an opportunity for its ingredients to express their deep natural aromas.  6/10

ImageLoup de la méditérannée (seabass) en filet piqué d’Olives, garniture et bouillon d’un minestrone, basilic pilé au mortier – Tasty fish, cooked properly (seasoned carefully, absolutely no reproach about the doneness, temperature) , fleshy as it should and served with carrots, celery,  white beans. 7/10

ImagePoitrine de Pigeonneau des Alpes de haute Provence, foie gras de canard, pommes de terre nouvelles sur la braise, jus gouteux aux abats – The squab successfully rosy, but its taste not as deep  and as exciting as the one I had couple of days before  at L’Arpège. It came with a nicely plump piece of seared foie gras, precisely seared with good grill  marks, but I found it lacking of the full liver flavor of some of its exciting versions. Again, no reproach for the cooking and the quality of the ingredients is great, but such classic dish can and should excite in mouth, which was not the case for me.  6/10

ImageThen the generous cart of top quality cheese – France’s finest tables have that big pressure of having to offer cheeses of world class standard, and Louis XV’s cheese cart is an examplary one. All cheeses sampled showcased respective textures, tastes and body that were  in their prime state. France’s highly regarded cheese-maturer Bernard Antony had his widely praised aged comté available and it is admirable to see how the folks at le Louis XV did justice to his famous cheese with remarkable storage technique and care,   all features that sound simple in theory but that seem to fail in the hands of even very ambitious tables. The piece of comté, I was sampling, evolving onto  expected toasty hazelnut aromas, subtle grassy and toffee notes progressively complementing the rich and complex intensity of the  flavours. This was, in regard to what is expected at its age (3 yrs) , a superb  sample of the comté.  We’ve also enjoyed some superb Fourme d’ ambert, Camembert Jort lait cru as well as  some nearby goat cheeses (which names I forgot since this  was my first time trying them), all cheeses of benchmark mention.

Many years after being blown away by their classic desserts of Baba au Rhum and  Le Louis XV au croustillant de pralin , I did not bother perusing the dessert menu and ordered the two items. My wife (her first time at le Louis XV) does not like Baba au Rhum and she went with a soufflé of apricot.

ImageBaba au Rhum –  Le Louis XV’s version of the Baba au rhum has always been, with regards to the finest ones I had in France (being French, those found in France have naturally   been those I  am the most familiar with, and I won’t hide the fact that I prefer them to any of their other European versions), one personal favourite. It remains as great as the first one I had  here, in 1990, with flawless yeast raised dough, delicate spongy texture, the golden color superbly achieved. In typical Louis XV style, the presentation is an elegant piece of theater with several choices of top quality rhum to chose from, the cake offered in a golden dome . There is no expectations to have over a baba au rhum, a baba au rhum  is a baba au rhum, not an exploration of the moon, but this one remains a benchmark of its kind. 10/10

ImageLouis XV au croustillant de pralin–  A hazelnut biscuit wrapped in  a ganache of dark chocolate. Alain Ducasse’s famous refined take (sort of ) on a chocolate crispy brunch bar. The ganache  having  smooth glamourous texture showcasing great precision from the pastry team, and  the hazelnut mousse airy texture as enticing as I remember it from last time (they do not have the same Pastry Chef as on my last visit, here).  An  8/10 this time.

ImageSoufflé d’Abricot –  Properly risen soufflé, but the sourness should have been better controlled (that was way too strong for the soufflé to be enjoyable ). 7/10 as/per my wife, a score that I share ….. but come to think about it, I’d not be surprised to learn that that bold  sourness is perhaps appreciated by many people. We both are just not  fans of big  sour flavor in soufflés.

ImageChocolate, petits fours  –  This is to be taken with a grain of salt since there’s definitely no matter of serious displeasure here, but I found the chocolate offering, although of   good quality as you might expect from such place, to still not reach the heights it could have in the hands of an exceptional artisan chocolatier, to take an  example. I gather this is  real nitpicking, that it is a restaurant, not a chocolatier,  and it would be stupid to put down the overall appreciation of my meal on the pretext of such observation, but there are couple of 3 star Michelin destinations – even in the US for example, let alone throughout Europe – that are offering a better variety of chocolate closer to what I am referring to.  7/10 for the chocolate (in view of  what I am expecting at this level of dining), but in total fairness, there’s really few 3 stars offering the type of outstanding chocolate  of the level of an exceptional artisan chocolatier. The mignardises left me with almost similar  impression:  good execution and tasting fine of course, but not of the level of, say, the outstanding petits fours I once had at Pacaud’s L’Ambroisie (where concentration of flavor, stunning taste and glamourous definition of textures rivaled each other). It is all in the details, I know, and that is why top dining destinations like Le Louis XV do exist: for the  opportunity to go deep into the details of a stellar dining experience. 8/10 for the petits fours (again, in comparison to what I am used to at this standard of dining).

PROS : One of world’s most richly decorated dining rooms, sublime service, the lovely  experience of being there.  The Baba. The benchmark cheeses.

CONS :  I miss a more personal and authoritative cooking imprint  like I  have sometimes enjoyed from Chefs like Bernard Pacaud, Maximin or Roellinger,  and  at numerous  humble eateries all along the Mediterranean coast, or even here, years ago,  under Cerutti.

Overall food performance: 7/10    Good and properly executed cuisine for this  genre (Classic French/Med), the Ducasse philosophy applied as far as keeping the fares simple and respectful of the ingredients, but this is my favourite type of cooking, so I know well what I need to expect from it, which is deeper expression of the flavors (exactly as many restaurants manage to do with classic cooking of this sort on the Italian riviera or  as Chef Cerrutti  actually did when I was here many years ago)  and that is where I was a bit less impressed. And No, it’s not a case where ‘’my palate may have evolved since that time, so perhaps my expectations are not realistic anymore’’’  (such theory would make no sense: I have just re-visited L’Arpège  after almost the same amount of years of no-show and was still blown away by the fabulous taste of some of their creations).  All in all, my general impression of the  savouries matches an overall score  of  6/10, which is good enough, though not great,  but I found that the pastry team did quite a remarkable job (I was very impressed with the Baba au rhum being as stellar as  over a decade ago, perfected and so delicious, and despite the way-too-sour soufflé and my severe observations on the mignardises, this pastry team has the solid and reliable skills expected at this level) to deserve an extra point for their performance, which justifies the overall  food performance score of 7/10.  That said, it’s hard to reach a wide conscensus with what I am looking for in this type of cuisine, so I can understand why the focus is on flavors that can be acceptable to  the most.

Service: 10/10  They know with whom they can be a bit more formal or casual, while always offering the highest standards of hospitality and being professional. They litterally read in your mind, Lol. A great example of this is when my wife (really not a fan of this kind of grand luxury setting)  revealed to me that upon entering the restaurant she was afraid to feel out of place, but that the behaviour of the staff gave the impression that she was at home, only the decor was far more elegant and she was pampered like a queen, Lol. Everything, in the end, looked normal to her, which says a lot about the genuine effort of this team to adapt to its guests  in a customized manner. I am sure if I’d gracefully ask them to stop holding the chair for me when I return to my table  (I come from an intellectual background that prohibits  admiration for that sort of royal treatment…but of course, I was there dining, having fun, so I was not going to stop them from doing what they are supposed to do ), they’d oblige. Such  is the impression I got: the customer first and foremost  as  they seem to be genuinely opened to whatever may satisfy.

Décor:  Belle époque grandeur, Christofle gold flatware, marble, chandeliers, trolley of bread, trolley of cheese, trolley of herbal teas. I love old world interior designs and architectures, so seating there and admiring this opulent décor was naturally a feast for my eyes.

CLOUIS XV, MONTE CARLO - SEPTEMBER 21ST 2013 - YOUR HUMBLE HOSTonclusion: I may not have been floored by the overall food performance on this specific lunch (remember, nothing was wrong with the food, it is just that I tend to be partial to strong /bold/eventful  flavors like those found in the dip of the crudités or while enjoying my baba au rhum ) , but Le Louis XV is a  dining experience of superlative attributes (stunning decor, world class service, cheeses of the highest standards , choices of wines that will please the most demanding wine lovers and I can go on and on with the qualities).

Added in Oct 2013 – What I think a month later:  Hard to not like le Louis XV, it’s packed with so much charms, so many qualities and it’s an incredibly beautiful restaurant.  And yes, the experience of being there remains second to none!  And hey, it’s the Mediterranean coast, the sun, the amazing views.  It’s also one of the rare places in the world where you can feel the genuine interest of the staff to always improve and please their guests, and they take criticisms really well. They take nothing for granted, which is an extraordinary feature and one that can’t be said of plenty of  restaurants around the globe. Now this: when that velouté arrived at our  table,  my wife  had this to say ‘ah, a velouté, you can’t go wrong with that, this dish will be very flavorful, there is no doubt about this”, to which I added ‘we can’t go wrong with the rest of this  meal neither…look, some sheep’s curd,  vegetable cookpot…obvious signs of deep joyous flavors…’, then we started eating and were both really surprised that the flavors were this discrete. Both my wife and I are not the kind of persons who will look down on what the most do take for granted, so we both do believe that greatness can be achieved with even the simplest food items, we both are opened to the idea that a simple velouté can be stellar even if it’s tough to make a bad one, therefore  this is not a case where the diner attended a meal with the  wrong expectations.  To the contrary,  we are sold to / and are very familiar with classic cooking of this sort and we are not the kind to attend a classical meal with  visions of modern cooking in mind. It’s not even as if we could not  figure out perfect scores for this type of classic cooking neither: I have just (couple of days prior to this meal at le Louis XV) rated  plenty of classic French bistrot  dishes with 10/10 scores, such as the lobster bisque at Bistrot D’Antoine (Nice), the Riz au lait  at Le Casse Noix (Paris), let alone the instances when I’ve never hesitated to score a simple crème brulée with a 10/10 (if it ranks among the finest I ever had, why not? Being simple and classic does not mean that a dish is condemned to be average!). What’s more classic French than those dishes?? And I am French, grew up and spent half of my life in France, so lobster bisque, riz au lait, crème caramel have been for me what a hamburger is to an American. It’s not even the fact that I can’t figure a way to assign a perfect score to classic dishes or meals at the highest  levels of Michelin star standards since I had many meals from Chefs like Jacques Maximin, Olivier Roellinger, Christian Constant, Gerard Besson that I scored with a 10.  Most, if not all of them, not behind the stoves anymore but  within the past recent two years, I still have not lost my ability to keep scoring highly anything that stands out and that is classic haute French or Italian (since the cooking at Le Louis XV is inspired by both type of cuisines):  a  score of  10/10 for a classic meal at Pacaud’s L’Ambroisie, some few 10/10 dishes at  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan (classic), a classic Ravioli di Faraona – Guinea fowl ravioli at Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio, and actually, right here at le Louis XV, a classic dessert like the Baba au rhum. I took the time to write all of that as a reminder that this is an instance where the kitchen was booting with an advantage: they had the diners on their side. Later on, someone who knows Le Louis XV told me that he is certain that the less expensive menus would have fared better.  Perhaps, since it is true that sometimes you have  kitchen brigades  that seem stronger on some of their menus, but again, sheep’s curd, cookpot cooking, those are known notions of flavor enhancement.  So impart  more  zing in those savouries (like when Frank Cerutti was in that kitchen; nowadays he is still around in his role of supervising Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Monaco, while Dominique Lory is the current Chef at le Louis XV) and I’ll be a happy camper, because on the food department, there are highlights that few restaurants around the globe do this well (for eg, that Baba au rhum. If you ever think that it is not rocket science to find a Baba done this well, then  think twice! — For many ppl, the best of the Classic desserts of Alain Ducasse is the croustillant de pralin. To me, it’s the Baba).

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Restaurant L’Arpège
Type of Cuisine: French (Alain Passard’s own interpreted classic French cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on Tuesday September 17th 2013, 12:30
Addr:  84 Rue de Varenne  75007 Paris, France
Phone: 01 47 05 09 06
URL:  http://www.alain-passard.com

 

This meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot that’s supposed to read in your mind and feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their rank as a 3 star Michelin   (needless to stress that   this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did on that meal. Thinking otherwise would reveal a deep lack in the understanding of what  cooking should  really be about). And that reason is the same that makes a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari all well praised cars: the details! You can love or hate them, but it does not matter, as  at the end of the day …they are effortlessly capable of heights, here and there,  that  their peers can only  dream of !

Before getting to the point, just a quick overview of some of the latest main changes in France’s restaurant scene:  as most know, Yannick Alléno has left Le Meurice (this was not a surprise since it was no secret that Chef Alléno was  looking for some new challenge).  It will be interesting to see if  Le Meurice will keep its 3 stars when next year’s Michelin stars will be published (though, according to Gilles Pudlowski, Le Meurice will benefit from Alain Ducasse’s association — click here for that article) . Not that I will miss Yannick Alléno (I am not a big fan of Chef Yannick Alléno), but he at least has proven to be capable of  pulling off   proper French haute 3 star Michelin standards . The legendary Marc Veyrat, a chef that I never had the chance to get to know, made a comeback (See Gilles Pudlowski’s article on the return of Chef Veyrat).

In an article of  Le Figaro about the 2013 Michelin stars of France, the article can be found here, my attention went to a comment from Cath98.  She writes about the elitism of most of those Michelin star Chefs, which is actually not the reason I mention her comment here (people  always think that what others do wrong is  elitism/bad/etc,  then when they  get to replace the wrong ones,  they inevitably end up doing the same thing… but done differently..lol…one elite is always replaced by another..elite,…if you have hard time getting this, think of Fidel Castro –he was reproaching Battista to stick to power..humm….. ). What I found interesting though is her comment about the militant-less attitude of most of those big Chefs.  She is absolutely right: how on earth, do you rise to such heights and have just the average BS speech about terroir/local produce  to content yourself with? I am all for the terroir, have fought for it since my tender age, but we all got this one  by now! In the UK, a chef like  Gordon Ramsay fights for wise fishing (ref: his actions against abusive shark consumption).  So, Michelin star Chefs, especially in France:  ” au violon,  il est temps de jouer  d’autres airs …svp“”!

One last note in the “off-record’ section of this post:  I need to drop a few lines  on one of the best interviews a Chef ever offered:  it is one that Chef Guy Savoy had with Agents d’entretien. You can find that interview here. Guy Savoy has always been a first rate human being, the Mahatma Ghandi of the stoves, a monument of positive vibes  and that review will inspire many, not only those interested in food.

Paris remains one of world’s REAL finest gourmand destinations, indeed – With the incredible exciting gourmand destinations like San Sebastian, Barcelona, San Francisco,  Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong,  stunning non upscale food that can be found in Ecuador, Taiwan, Malaysia,  I was starting to fear that my dear Paris just could not handle a candle anymore to its world gourmand competitors.  But the 4 recent visits here is re-assuring:  for sure, if you do no search at all and simply push open the door of whatever eatery you find on your way, you will inevitably be disappointed. Do not forget: this is one of the most visited cities of the globe, so fake cooks abound to grab their  share of the cake.  On the other hand, Paris finest eateries  easily justify  the position of Paris as still a REAL world gourmet destination, and I’ll name a few that have absolutely seduced me recently, on my 2,3 recent visits to Paris:  La Table D’Aki (Chef Aki was the fish cook at 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie for the past 20 years. He now has his own fish-centric bistrot where the technique remains 3 stars for anyone seriously familiar with the matter, the setting is of the bistrot type and I find the price reasonable given both the quality of the produce and skills . This, for me, along with Bistrot La Marine in Cagnes sur Mer,  is currently the idea of what I have of a #1  seafood French classic bistrot anywhere around the globe), Officina Schenatti (one of the finest Italian bistrots outside of Italy. No surprise here: Chef Ivan Schenatti has been, for a long time, the mastermind behind Emporio Armani’s haute dining. He now has has his own little bistrot with bona fide skills oozing where it should: in the plates. To continue with  the theme of the great Chefs who are enoughly humble and respect their  customers (they are the few remaining GREAT ones who are found where they are expected: in their kitchen  instead of showing off  huge ego by delegating their incapacity to work seriously to name bearers),  I’ll drop a word on the very popular  L’Ami Jean: there is nothing like this anyhwhere else around the globe. YES, it is full of tourists, barely no locals. But who cares?? It is the food, ….! Rfaol! I love Chef Stéphane Jégo rustic food, because when his rustic rich French basque-inspire food is in its prime (not always, based on my experiences there) , it is divinely delicious. That is all that counts for me. The hordes of tourists have obviously got it. And locals do not flock here because it is a bit too $$$ for most French.  I am no exception: it is $$  for  me too, but I’d rather wait and spare a bit of money, eat a great rustic bistrot  meal here, once in a long while,  rather than attending  several  laughable attempts at what a bistrot might be.   L’Ami Jean has its drawbacks and they need to be repeated to anyone that does not know this: it is cramped, it is noisy, it is not the best place for a romantic meal. But I love it!   Another keepers: Restaurant Kei as well as Le Sergent recruteur .   I should not hijack this article on L’Arpège to those findings, but to be brief, other findings that make of Paris one of world’s very best:  Sola (A 1 star Michelin that would be 2 or 3 anywhere else; needless to add more. But what a gem of world class Japanese/French cooking and there is more to this place), the Pithivier of Eric Briffard at Le Cinq (Le Cinq is a real 3 star Michelin that has officially just 2 stars) , the Lièvre à la royale of Pierre Gagnaire/Senderens  (remember:  the best of French classic food being rich by nature, it shines in its full glory during game season).  Nah, you won’t find anything close to those anywhere else.  Last but not least, one of world’s current most talent Chefs, David Toutain, seem to be interested by a return on the food scene.

ARPEGE, PARIS (1)Back to my homeland (France) re-visiting L’Arpège (4th visit only in 15 years),  as well as another 3 star Michelin place that was reviewed later, le Louis XV.

The importance of the ‘gesture’ (IOTG) in cooking has long been pioneered by Chef Alain Passard (no need to introduce Chef Passard, which second grand passions are music and arts/  just google his name and you’ll have plenty of infos on one of France’s most celebrated Chef, whose restaurant L’Arpège – named after the musical technique called arpeggio — has kept its 3 Michelin stars since 1996). What passes as pure BS for plenty of lesser cooks, oftently because they just can’t bother understanding its deep meaning,  is actually one of the most important concepts in cooking: like it or not, the eye, the touch, the feel, the smell  set apart the better Chefs from the lesser ones. Many will tell you that they know all of that, alas few do really have the right eye/feel/smell and touch (which obviously explains why most restaurants have average cooks) and it’s easy, given that you are interested in such details (which I hope you do if you decided to take a chance on such pricey meals) , to perceive a developed sense of those matters:  the end result will always end up as inspired (or not)  as the care and deep ability of its creator to feel/touch/smell her/his produce. Fan or not of Alain Passard, there’s one thing you can’t reproach him:  he is one of the few who genuinely walked the walk when it comes to the subject of the ‘importance of the gesture’ (The IOTG).

 

 

Chef Passard,  with whom my interractions have always been limited to a simply ‘hello Chef’ when he tours the dining room, is a Chef that I have read a lot about.  But if I was a journalist,  I would have some interesting material to cover with him. His genuine passion for vegetables is not just another refrain recited by yet another Chef.  But it’s his views on the IOTG that has always caught my attention.  Of course,  parts of his views on the IOTG can be better understood by himself only:   as an example, the way he moves his hands, the importance of the notion of distance in his movements, those are elements no one else than  himself can really apply. But the IOTG is behind everything you want to do properly: take a tennis player for example. The way he/she moves his/her legs, the way he/she moves her/his arms, therefore the gesture,  plays a significant role in his/her attitude, therefore his/her  game.  Same logic applies to food: the way you cut your meat, carefully or nervously, the way you pick that carrot, carefully or carelessly, the way you cook your food, patiently or hastily, will of course always affect the end result. There is a reason,  in spite of nowadays need for speed, that I still insist on spending time with long hours of carefully slow cooking.

The IOTG goes beyond the ability of  feeling/smelling and having a great eye (essential for a real Chef) for your produce. You need, of course, to also understand the interaction between nature and the produce, you need to deeply understand how one specific ingredient reacts to an array of cooking techniques and temperatures. You need to understand the steps of the evolution of each single vegetable and fruit. You need to do the samething with meats, poultry, fish, etc. You need, and that is essential, to have memory of the flavors that were created before you. Or else, what are you really carrying on? What are you really improving upon? What can you be proud of if there’s nothing you can  refer to ? All things that everyone seems to take for granted, but how many have REALLY proven to be capable of mastering those. How many  cooks have bothered spending their time understanding and mastering the tastes of yesterday? How many really know, master and can reproduce the various traditional versions of a  Lièvre à la Royale?  How many are actually..real CHEFS, present for real in their kitchen? REAL great Chefs are  rare nowadays and we obviously see why.

The reason of the  previous paragraphs is to explain why I keep going back to L’Arpège. Alain Passard is there in his restaurant, away from the syndrome of the fake cooks parading on TV. And he did and still do something simply amazing (again, my admiration for Chef passard has nothing to do with my appreciation of my meals here. I had great as well as less impressive meals here, as anyone can have great and less impressive ones at their favourite restaurants) : applying himself to transmit the real taste of yesterday to his brigade, then building  — on that memory of taste – the creations of today. And they are doing it in an unusual way, their own way. Passard calling it his ‘cuisine légumière’ (they focus more on their work of the veggies than the average restaurants, with the veggies oftently the star, veggies that come directly from his own farms, the poultry or the seafood their equal, in contrast of the big majority of tables where the veggie is usually an afterthought, its presence serving as an accoutrement . Others have called it peasant food (for its mostly bold presentations and pure unfussy flavors) . Call it the way you want, but it is a ‘cuisine  d’auteur’ in which the brigade tries its best to interpret Alain Passard’s soulful vision of classic French cuisine. My admiration for Chef Passard has of course nothing to do with the appreciation of his food (Passard or not, if I value a food item as great or bad, I’ll point it out regardless of who cooked it), it has more to do with the fact that he is among those very few Chefs who are excelling at bridging the past with the present. They have that incredible ability to communicate the ‘uncommunicable”: memory of taste. Last summer, in Milan, I stumble upon another great Chef of this standing: Chef Aimo Moroni. I was impressed to see how Chef Moroni managed to embark his younger Chefs in a genuine mastery of the flavors of ‘yestergenerations’. Which inevitably allows a cuisine that transcends time.  There are less and less of them, those real great Chefs, and they are the last chance for the next generation of cooks to become REAL great Chefs.

THE MEAL

Before the usual vegetable tartlets, the kitchen served a feuilleté of vegetables. A feuilleté with superb airy texture and sublime buttery taste. Carrots,thyme and peppers were the star veggies of that feuilleté.

ARPEGE, PARIS - SUSHI LEGUMIER

Then sushi legumier (sushi of beet ). If you are going to make sushi crumbles  easily like this, better do something else.

ARPEGE, PARIS - OEUF EN COQUE

The serving of amuse bouches continued: Coquetier  liqueur d’érable  (a tiny egg shell filled with a creamy  mix of Xérès vinegar, egg yolk, maple liquor)   sounds way more interesting than what it tasted since  It was dominated  by a  vinegary taste that  overpowered  the best component of  that amuse, the egg yolk. Fresh egg yolk of stunning quality does not need the distraction of superfluous strong vinegar taste. Maple liquor..why not? but the kitchen took no advantage of that component neither, the liquor adding nothing  discernible here. My wife commented that ‘any Oeuf en coque that is this tiny …boots with a visual disadvantage…a sizeable egg opens the appetite ‘. Indeed, it was a tiny egg

ARPEGE, PARIS - VEGETABLE TARTLETS

Seems like the amuse-bouches had no intent to amuse on this lunch: the celebrated vegetable tartlets (filling of mousses of various seasonal vegetables) looking big on photos, but disappointingly minuscule in reality (I appreciate delicate creations…but not to the point of not being able to discern anything) , so tiny (about the size of our Canadian penny, no more than 20mm in diameter) that it was hard to properly enjoy their taste and make an opinion about them.  Even upon deploying tremendous efforts to focus on whatever discernible flavor that was  left, they tasted nothing special as far  as I am concerned. The level of those  amuse-bouches we were sampling on this lunch was weak ( 4/10 for the amuse-bouches)

ARPEGE, PARIS - TOMATES, HUILE DE SUREAU

Then carpaccio of tomato/ huile de sureau.  Finally a dish showcasing  Passard’s cooking philosophy, the one that appealed to me for its  ability to extract the most out of the least. This dish did just that: stellar tomato taste with exciting seasoning (huile de sureau).  9/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - GAZPACHO

Gazpacho de tomate, creme glacée moutarde is an example of creativity (rework of the gazpacho) paired with amazing deliciousness. Not many great kitchens can extract this much excitement from a gazpacho. The mustard ice cream adding incredible depth of flavour, but what amazed me with this dish is that many can copy it, but I doubt that the perfected textures and work of the taste can be reproduced even by the most skilled brigades.  For what it is (a creative gazpacho), this dish is of benchmark material. 10/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - RAVIOLES POTAGERES

Then, their legendary fines ravioles potageres. I read about comparisons with Chinese wonton soups, but  If you cook  both versions (Passard’s recipe is easy to find online) you will quickly realize that they have nothing in common apart the fact that they are boiled pastas. The ultra refined al dente pasta (another thing that you’ll realize when trying to replicate  this recipe is the amount of patience and long practice that is needed, even by professional cooks, to get to this level of precise refinement of both the stock and the texture of the pasta ) is a work of world class precision, and again that is what I call fabulous creativity (not many kitchen brigades would think about proposing ravioles the way they are doing it). The pastas were stuffed with seasonal vegetables, the one with beets tasting really of beets…but the others we were trying could have been whatever vegetable we would want them to be and it would not matter because they had no distinct taste. Furthermore, the taste of the broth (parfum de Melisse, on this instance) was one of such aggressive minerality (like a tisane high on mineral aromas, which means not a pleasant tisane) that I found this dish hard to enjoy. 5/10 (Still, keep in mind that this broth and the content of the ravioles varies a lot depending on the seasons, so there are chances you’ll stumble upon far more enjoyable ones).

ARPEGE, PARIS - AIGUILLETTE DE HOMARD

Aiguillette de homard bleu nuit acidulé au miel nouveau, transparence de navet globe au romarin –  For my taste, most boiled lobsters (this one was boiled), as great as they might be,  can’t hold a candle to the finest grilled ones (for palatable impact) and sweetness (the lobster was slightly honey-flavored) to seafood dish is just another road block on my way to enjoy the marine freshness of the lobster. It was cooked right, as evidenced by the tender flesh of the lobster, but exciting this was not  6/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - SOLE

Sole poached in vin jaune was delicious and its cooking without reproach, the accompanying pieces of octopus not startling, but properly tenderized. 7/10 for the fish (it came with nicely smoked potatoes, chives and cabbage)

ARPEGE, PARIS - CORN RISOTTO

Corn risotto/parsley emulsion is the kind of dish that many ambitious tables will take for granted because it looks simple  and sounds easy to create, but the reality might tell a different story: the stunning corn flavor was enhanced by a balanced and addictive creamy-ness that you can’t just provoke by adding cream to corn. I love this kind of dish since it  lures  into believing that you can replicate it. Yes, anyone can re-create this recipe, but few will be able to replicate the exact depth of eventful flavors of this dish.  Inspired!  10/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - Robe des champs Arlequin a l'huile d'argan

Robe des champs Arlequin à l’huile d’argan, merguez légumière, aubergine d’autrefois, courgette ronde de Nice, carotte white satin is a creatively constructed dish of  semolina, vegetables (beets, tomatoes,carrots), vegetable sausage….  but I was disappointed by a dry vegetable sausage that was oddly sweet and salty in a non appetizing way. The bitterness of the rest of that dish was the other major problem. Not a pleasant dish at all, for me and my wife was even more critical of that dish . 0/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - AGNEAU

Things then took the direction of the finer dishes of this meal: my wife’s T-bone d’agneau de Lozère aux feuilles de figuier, aubergine à la flamme (roasted T-bone of lamb — the image on the left or above, depending on your web browser’s display settings) would be a crowd pleaser at a world class steakhouse (fabulous taste) and my piece of pigeon/cardamom was a benchmark beautifully rosy (ideal doneness) bird with exciting taste. 8/10 for the lamb, 10/10 for the pigeon, but scores will never be high enough to convey the real great pleasure that my wife and I were having with both the lamb and pigeon. Exciting. Also, ppl talk a lot about the beautiful  dishes at l’Arpege, and we were eyeing at an example of just that: the way my wife’s dish was constructed was of unusual  supreme visual appeal  (hard to tell  when looking at that pic, but definitely easy on the eyes in reality).

ARPEGE, PARIS - PIGEON

The pigeon came with white beans that had such an amazing  mid eastern flavour profile.

ARPEGE, PARIS - VELOUTÉ

Red pepper velouté was another benchmark offering of its kind, with superb creamy texture, joyous mouthfeel, the feast went on with the exciting combination of an addictive speck cream. A lesson in the art of taking a familiar dish and turn it into something profoundly inspiring. 10/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - CHEESE

To end the meal, a well kept aged Comte from Maitre affineur Bernard Anthony and a superb piece of moelleux du revard.

ARPEGE, PARIS - MILLE FEUILLE

Then their millefeuille (blackberry ,thyme) which is indeed light and an enjoyable alternative to its classic version (7/10), and a rework of the classic ile flottante that showcased a creative mind but which, for me, suffered from strong coffee flavour (6/10). My wife observed that the classic ile flottante fared better. I personally do not mind this creative take, but it was just difficult to cope with the strong coffee taste.

ARPEGE, PARIS - MIGNARDISES

A plate of mignardises comprised of vegetable-flavoured macarons (not as bad as I had anticipated), the nougat truely delicious, the apple tart shaped like a rose having nice buttery pastry with joyous apple flavour (8/10)

Prosthe young and dynamic sommeliere from the Czech republic.  Her wine suggestions by the glass were  so inspired (2)The superlative delicious pigeon/lamb/corn risotto, benchmark creative takes on the gazpacho/red pepper velouté. All items that many will pretend to be able to easily deliver, but few will really reach  out to the depth and deliciousness of those. Usually, when there are lesser impressive items in a meal, my overall impression is affected, but not in this case. Here my overall impression had just the finest dishes in mind (3)the very approachable and genuine Maitre D’ Helene Cousin. 

Consthe Arlequin robe des champs, lobster, ravioles potageres, vegetable tartlets (though, for the sake of accuracy, it is important to remind  that they do offer different versions of those, so you may be luckier than I was). Also, the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to explain the dishes a bit more, exactly like what Maitre D’ Helène Cousin did when she served the red pepper velouté

MEURSAULT LES TESSONS CLOS DE MON PLAISIRThe wine service:  A section that I add to my reviews when I am very  impressed by the wine service at a restaurant. The behaviour of the sommeliere from the Czech republic  was admirable in all possible aspects: being able to listen, share, never contradicting while making her point whenever necessary, etc. But all of that was done way better than  what passes as the norm for great hospitality standards (Helene Cousin also excels at that, but in the different role of the Maitre D’).  Right upon perusing the wine menu I knew I’d pick the  2008 Meursault  ”Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir”  from the domaine Roulot. She had other choices in mind for me as she pointed to amazing little gems that were less expensive and indeed of great quality. But I went with what I had in mind for the most part of this meal, and she never interfered. A first great classy act from her part. This Meursault is a type of  Bourgogne blanc wine that I highly  enjoy for its  balanced acidity/minerality, enticing  nose of ripe fruits, great level of  intensity/complexity. It will continue to age well, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s already a top flight flacon). Me chosing that Meursault was also a trap:  was my sommelière going to be passive and not flag wine/dish pairings that made no sense (it is surprising how many sommelier/e/s even at highly regarded restaurants do fall into that trap)? NO she never fell into that trap! She is a very present/focused/competent  sommelière as she  tactfully intervened whenever necessary.  The way she did that and the suggestions she had is about the difference between a great sommelière (which she is) Vs a standard  sommelier-e. For me, a great wine pairing has nothing to do with showing off pricey wines. It should be about  finding, even among the more affordable ones, the wines that turn into true gems because their pairing to a specific dish is flawless.  It’s exactly what she did.  A world class sommeliere.

Service/Ambience:  Professional.  The younger waiters and waitresses looking very serious, though their youth and energy makes the whole effect not heavy (as in way too serious).  Maitre D’ Helene Cousin truely embodying the concept of L’Arpège — which is the theme  of  a ‘maison de cuisine’, a house imagined by   Alain Passard where he receives his guests in a cosy environment (which explains why you do not have the huge space between the tables / grand luxury, etc…of most of the grand restaurants of Paris) — with cordial and yet professional demeanour. I like this approach of being genuine/approachable (The sommelière from the Czech Republic also followed  this approach faithfully) since it reminds us that, after all, the most important is that the customer is there to have fun.  The only suggestion I would have is  that the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to be a tad more chatty in his description of his dishes. All in all, they are French, I am French, so communication was naturally flawless.

Decor:  The interior decor is oftently described as understated.  But this place is all about details, so the idea, as Chef Passard has  widely explained to numerous medias, is to  replicate the ambience of a house. Thus, no grand formal luxury,  but the apparent understated warmth of the art-deco inspired  home that Passard has imagined for his guests: pear tree wood panels (designed by Jean-Christophe Plantrou) sparsely adorned with  few of his paintings,  some glass etching works, some retro style chrome-armed chairs, ebene de macassar material (this material is elementary in classifying L’Arpège interior deco as Art deco). Passard replacing the usual flowers on the tables, by vegetables.

 

 

Overall food rating (by the highest Classic French 3 star Michelin standards): 8/10**  I was immensely impressed with  the best dishes of this meal which were so inspired  and had such high impact (on my palate) that the lesser items were long forgiven (though, not forgotten…which is the sole reason I am not giving a 10/10 to this meal. Trust me, I am tempted to give that 10, Lol.. but have opted to remain rational)! There are always restaurant meals which finest dishes are  impressive, but this one was  something else.  The heights of this meal, for their  benchmark joyous flavors and superb creativity, will rarely be paralleled. As with any restaurant meal that impresses, I do not know if  L’Arpège can do this all the time. All I know is that the best dishes of this meal I just had, are …. true benchmarks, by any top dining standards and will be remembered as long as my memory serves me right. It is rare that an 8/10 meal delivers dishes far superior to a 10/10 meal (for eg, a flawless high level meal but with no particular heights) and this was one of those rare cases. Soul satisfaction    ***Two months after this meal, I raised the score of my lunch at L’Arpège to a 10/10. It might sound  controversial to assign a perfect score to a meal where many items triggered indifference from my part (the amuse bouches, the ravioles potagères, just to name a few), but at the end of the round, and with hindsight, I was left with a much more important reflection:  even among world’s very best, few Chefs have the  exceptional palate found behind the finest dishes of that meal (referring to the incredible heights of deliciousness of the better dishes that they’ve cooked. And where many would reproduce those simple looking food presentations only to end up with  items of ordinary effect (which happens a lot because many kitchen brigades/cooks simply can’t make the difference between EASY vs SIMPLE), L’Arpège offers plenty of inspired touches to admire  for those with an eye for details.  If such heights would have been the norm I’d play it rough (referring to the lesser dishes), but is is not. It is not the norm. It is NOT! What I like the most with L’Arpège is that they have opted to be different (from the conventional fla fla of luxury dining), NOT  for the sake of just being different because it’s trendy, BUT because they truly are.

ARPEGE, PARISConclusion: I prefer a table that does not rests on its laurels like this one, rather than places where everything is uniformly done well but without soul/inspiration.  The better dishes of this meal were true moments of  divine ‘gourmand’ enjoyment. I’ll also  add this: for me, being creative is doing things the way few are thinking about doing them. The way they have thought their ravioles  (that level of finesse in creating those ravioles  and the thought they did put in working its taste – the fact that I did not like it substracts nothing from the true creativity of that dish — ) has nothing to do with what most ambitious kitchen brigades  would think about doing with a bowl/some pasta/some vegetable and water in their hands. The gazpacho, the corn risotto, the red pepper etc..same thing: easy sounding creations  that tons of kitchen brigades can do, BUT rarely with this level of utter refinement, attention to details, and superlative work of the taste.

For something safe all the way, which is not my thang, this meal (I judge meals, not restaurants) was obviously not perfect. But if for you, the higher highs can potentially …potentially, I wrote…rise to benchmark  levels (the case of  this lunch), then this would be a standard bearing one. My wife argued that despite the benchmark lamb/pigeon and the fact that she highly regards this place as one of world’s finest (especially for its refreshing and successful different approach of French/Cosmopolitan cooking), an 8 over 10 will be an accurate score for  the overall food performance of this lunch.  I think that when your higher highs are far better than restaurants of your rank (which was the case on this lunch), then you deserve a 10/10….but way too many items left me wanting for more on this lunch (lobster, ravioles potageres, arlequin Robe des Champs), which in the end leaves me with the 8/10 as a fair overall score (update November 2013: a score that  has NOT stood the test of time – SEE my addendum, written in red, to the overall score section ) . More importantly, L’Arpège  continues to rank among  the stronger  3 star Michelin destinations around the globe, one of my few favourite.

Added in October 2013 – What I think a month later :   I purposely add this section to all my reviews because there’s of course different stages of the appreciation of a meal.  There is the  ‘right-off the bat’ stage  which is obviously the freshest impressions you have, then of course what you think about it later on. Some people think that you should always wait before  unveiling your thoughts about a meal, which to me is akin to  manipulating reality. It’s one thing to think for a while before making an important decision, but if  talking about the appreciation  of your meal does  require some second thoughts, then I am afraid you are just sharing a portion of the reality. What you’ve read before was my fresh impressions. What you’ll read next is where I stand a month  later: that meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as  a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot who’s supposed to  read in your mind and  feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their  3 star Michelin rank (needless to stress that for me, this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did on that meal). And that reason is the same that makes  a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari  all well praised cars: the details!  If for you a Porsche is simply an assemblage or metal, nothing more, then do not bother with it! You are losing your time. Same thing for this meal at L’Arpège: if for you  that Arlequin of legumes is just a take on the couscous, or those ravioles are just interpretations of wonton soups, please do yourself a favor:  stick to the numerous canteens you won’t fail to find on your way.  Leave those to people who can appreciate the details / thoughts that were invested in those dishes. I do not mean to sound  rude by saying so, just pragmatic as you’d want to constructively tell to anyone who can’t properly appreciate a great song in its full nuances to simply stay away from it. Despite how easy as it sounds (upon reading many reports about their cooking), what I was sampling  takes, in facts,  a lot of training, efforts and skills (it’s one thing you not like a dish, it is another thing to trim it down to what it is not) . When this brigade at L’Arpège performs like  it did on this meal (referring to the finest dishes of this meal, obviously), the analogy I’ll consider is one related to sports, the 100 metres race: this brigade powered through the finish line when many of its peers are still at the starting blocks.

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
Event: Dinner at  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
When: Saturday June 16th 2012, 7:30 PM
Michelin stars: 2
Addr: Via Privata Raimondo Montecuccoli, 6 20147 Milan (Italy)
URL: http://www.aimoenadia.com/
Phone: +39 02 416886
Type of cuisine:  Italian Haute cuisine (Pan-Italian with Tuscan influence)

The Maestro is not cooking anymore but what I found here was some of the better Italian food of this  globe. 

 

Overall food rating: 8/10 Delicious take on Italian classic. One of my few favourite tables around the globe.
Service: 9/10 Lovely, attentive
Overall dining experience (the non food factor):  8/10    This is my type of  dining experience, classic, focused on real great food/flavors. For those whose ideal of  a dining experience needs to be pepped up with  ‘theater’, the score will undoubtly be lower, and   I also suspect that the dining room, not modern-looking though charming, and the neighborhood, perhaps too ‘suburb’,  might lack the little ‘extra mileage’ in appeal that some would require to be floored. To each their own, then.

 

Food I had:  I am a bit busy,  was there with some friends (so no pics since having fun between friends turned out more important than bothering about food photographing), so won’t  elaborate too much on each of the dishes — we basically shared bites of what we had ordered — , but I have sampled a tortelli / ossobuco of Piedmontese veal, the work of taste amazing, though very classic in presentation which is my liking (9/10), Veal (tenderloin cut) / Jerusalem artichoke, the veal (from the region of Piedmont) of stunning quality, the vegetable just ok (easily an 8/10 for that piece of veal — they could have simply served it as a carpaccio and I would have been a happy camper, the meat on its own being so fabulous in mouth) , Oxtail of beef is a classic here and you should not miss it if you go there, its deep meaty flavor enhanced by a well bodied stew made of red wine. Again, hearty and delicious like whatever we kept eating on that meal, easily a 8/10 for that oxtail.  Rest assured that you can’t make such dish exquisite only by relying on the fact that fat and bones will do the talk…it takes a great palate and skills and this brigade certainly has both.

The script:
This concludes an  interesting journey of seven days in Italy that I started off in  Rome (only 1 quick day in Rome) , and then  carried on to Northern Italy (Lombardy, Veneto,  and Emilia-Romagna). Tiring to say the least, but this is Italy: a borderless  ‘open-air candy store’ where everything is tempting. It is, as we all know, one of those rare countries where each parcel of  land worths its weight in gold. This is  not my first time in Italy, and everytime I visit this country, I regret of not having spent more time.

Gastronomy is, to me, as important as culture, history and architectures. Italy obviously offers plenty of those and this trip was the excuse to enjoy some great food as well as visiting as many historical vestiges as I could in such a short period of time. The dining part of this journey is crazy: Dinner on Tuesday at 3 star Michelin La Pergola in Rome, an impromptu quick lunch at 2 star Michelin Trussardi alla Scala in Milan on Wednesday, a big lunch at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio on Thursday, and finally this Saturday dinner at the iconic 2 star Michelin Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan. It is absurd to enjoy as many meals in one single week, but absolutely understandable given the circumstances.

It was interesting, as a reflexion on my visits at the above mentioned Italian Michelin  star ventures to reach conclusions I had not expected prior to the events: for eg , I had high hopes, given the raves and also its worldwide status as one of the grand tables of the world,  that La Pergola would  have blown me away. Although grand — It’s indeed a grand table, executing to perfection all the details that makes it known as one of the very best 3 star Michelin tables in the world – I have to admit that I was not fully impressed on a personal basis. I found it to be as expected: a great 3 star dinner, but not one that was outstanding enough in my view. This explains the recurrent 8/10, 8.5/10 marks (which means ‘very good’ in my assessment, but far from stellar) that I thought accurate to assign to most food items. In contrast,  other 3 star Michelin tables that many would find average have surprisingly fed me with sometimes quantitatively less…but  oftently far more impressive food. That is why this whole thing is subjective, after all … and it would be fair to remind that this is based just on one visit at those places.

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, situated in remote suburbs of Milan,  is a 2 star Michelin and legendary establishment of  the city’s haute dining scene, with over 50 years of existence. The original Chef,  Tuscan cordon bleu Aimo Moroni (he started cooking in the mid 50s) now fulfills the role of the  owner, while two  Chefs, Fabio Pisani (Grand Veyfour, Waterside Inn, Dal Pescatore) and Alessandro Negrini (Dal Pescatore, as well), are at the helm of  the kitchen’s operations. What they do is basically their own interpretation  of Pan-Italian cuisine with inspirations   from Tuscany, Piedmont, Sicily and many other regions of Italy as well.

Aimo e Nadia is particularly praised among experienced gourmands of  Italy’s high end gastro scene for  offering strictly  the very best produce of the country (for eg, the top grade veal from Piedmont, Sienese lardo, etc), which is a feature that  I do expect at any table anyways, especially at this dining  level and in this corner of the world, although I am mentioning this because that aspect will naturally grow big on the subconscious dimension of my perception of the meal to come.

In a world where there is a lot of babbling about classic   techniques being boring, you would think that  trendy modern cooking would bring the supposedly exciting palatable emotions that comes along,  but years after the rise of  those novel cooking trends, few modernist Chefs are really capable of offering the true excitement that pertains to the splendid impact that classic food can unleash in skilled hands (the Spaniards remain among  the very few  whose depth of modern cooking creativity can  indeed rise at palatable heights of  the fabulous taste of the kind of successful classic cooking that I am praising). So many people are lured by the superficial aspect of food that they can’t even make a difference between an average, above average, superior or excellent straightforward food item such a soup or a tartare.  You get the idea:  a restaurant like Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia  catches my attention more than any of the latest trendy eateries, but this naturally comes with the expectation that classic food being my favourite cuisine type, it therefore needs to surpass itself.

Conclusion: Italian cuisine is in my top 10  favourite in the world along with Haitian, Congolese (Ex-Zaire), French, Chinese (from all over China), Indian (from all over India), Burmese (a lot of Indian and Thai influence)  and Thai. In that top 10, it is perhaps the cuisine that is technically closer to my cooking philosophy: try  getting the MOST (vibrant taste, above average exciting dishes, etc) out of the very LEAST (a simple ingredient, no fussy manipulation). It is therefore a cooking style that I am at ease with, because you sense the skills  (or lack of talent) of the cook almost on the spot. When I was a kid, one popular   leisure activity   in my neighborhood was to give 1 fish to a dozen of kids (the exact same kind of fish for each of the kids), 1 humble charcoal grill (not the fancy ones we have nowadays),  a box of matches, a bit of  salt and 1 lemon. With those humble and limited elements in hands, the kids had to surpass themselves and make a fish as stunning in taste as they could. Their palate had to dig deep in its sensitivity. Their taste memories constantly enriched with subtleties.  To me, this was the best cooking school in the world because the culinary touch of  each of those amateur cooks could be sensed and appreciated. It was like appreciating Miro’s touch in a painting of Joan Miro, It was Chagall’s spirit in Marc Chagall’s works. Nowadays, when you eat at most restaurants , there is usually a brand name … then Paul, Clara, John and X cooking for the brand name. It’s Miro but not Miro that did it. It’s Chagall, but not Chagall that created it.  It does not  matter who is cooking, as  long as there’s some sort of standard and some buzz. Just paint like Miro and Chagall, the most important is that their name are on the ad and make some noise, hourrahh!!  And most people do not care anyways, since it’s mostly either good or bad food. Lol. No wonder it sometimes takes me 1 year of intense reflexion and research  before deciding over a dinner worth of my hard earned money. What I liked with a place like Aimo e Nadia, eventhough Aimo and Nadia are perhaps not cooking that oftently anymore, it’s the presence of just those two Chefs only (Pisani an Negrini) with one goal: trying to convey, along the years,  the spirit of Aimo e Nadia. They perhaps will never be in a position to replicate Aimo’s personal touch (I am not even sure that cloning Aimo can address this, Lol), but what they did on this dinner was exactly what both Aimo and I seem to have as a common culinary philosophy: a fascination for turning the least into the very most.

Osteria con cucina ‘A Cantina de Mananan’
Via Fieschi, 117 – Tel 0187 821166
Corniglia – Cinque Terre
Email: mananan@libero.it

One   highlight of my gourmand’s journey in Northern Italy is a tiny stone walled  Italian osteria in the very touristy destination of Cinque Terre  :

It’s called  A cantina de Mananan and it is located in  Corniglia (Cinque Terre) –

The local gastronome  who brought me here did also introduce me to plenty of non touristy eateries that are popular with the locals in Liguria, Lombardy as well as Emilia-Romagna .  He then told me that there was this  spot located in the very touristy Corniglia that we need to eat at and that it may be one of the highlights of  my foodie  journey here. I had hard time believing him as Corniglia looked like a place where stellar food would be out of place.

 

I had their Piatto misto acciughe / Mixed dish of anchovies. The produce of a quality that can only come from the Mediterranea, the seasoning exquisite. This  was a reminder that the best of Italian cooking is the one that is  free to express itself without rules, guides nor food critic recommendations. The best of Italian cooking is taste that explodes in your mouth and lingers on your mind for a long time as epitomized by this Ligurian tastebud marvel .  This was a top dish, and in the room I could spot demanding local gourmands  with their nonas raving over this cuisine. 8/10

 

 

I also ordered   their gnocchi salsa di noci (gnocchi and walnut sauce), which work of the texture  and sublime taste would  be a dream even for   many top  tables of Italian  cuisine. 8/10

 

PROS: Italian regional cookery that is hard to improve upon (I am talking about the food I had there in summer 2012)

CONS: Do not come here expecting anything special as far as service goes

One major consequence of  Italy’s lucrative tourism industry  is that  plenty  of subpar eateries  are trying to  feed the myriad of tourists that flock there. Therefore, for a foreigner, it is hard to locate the rare genuinely great eateries  that are silenced by the aggressive competition of the lesser ones. Over a decade ago, there was great food to be found pretty much anywhere across Italy. To the contrary of what the Tourism authorities are trying to sell to us, that is not the case nowadays. My first two days in Northern Italy were frustrating in that regard. On my 3rd day, I was lucky enough to meet with some knowledgeable local foodies and things went uphill from there as  I did enjoy some dazzling food on the ensuing days. There were also some truely great celebrated restaurants such as Del PescatoreIl Luogo di Aimo e Nadia as well as Le Calandre that I did visit during this journey.  But food-wise (service is not their forte, I have to say), none left such a big impression on me as this humble osteria (there are 2 other osterias that also made a big impression on me – I just can’t remember their names, right now). This was Italian food in its pure glory. Not too sure if they will be always as great as on my visit, but, for those in the know, those truely interested by genuine Italian cuisine, the  A Cantina de Mananan that I have experienced with, that summer of 2012, would be  one great example  of    Italian regional cookery that is hard to improve upon (dazzling ingredients, superlative taste, excellent cooking technique). That said, it would be interesting  to see how such eatery will fare in the long run: Corniglia is very touristy, therefore I hope ACDM does not, one day, turn into yet another eatery that just wants to cash in on its tourists. Only time will tell.

 

Ristorante Dal Pescatore
Type of Cuisine: Updated Haute Italian (Classics of  Mantuan cuisine, Lombardy)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on Thursday June 14th, 2012 12:00
Addr: Località Runate – 46013 Canneto sull’Oglio , Mantova
Phone:+39.0376.723001
Email: santini@dalpescatore.com
URL: http://www.dalpescatore.com

Service: 10/10 Mostly young, well behaved Gentlemen with great tact. I am French, so they spoke French to me, and listening to Italians talking in French, with an Italian accent, is always pure joy to me. It has its charm, a charm that lingers on my mind.
Overall food rating: 8.5/10 The Santinis have an amazing sense of taste as largely proven by the fabulous ravioli di faraona,  the stunning  tomato compote,  great risotto, outstanding reduction to the braised  beef shoulder,  benchmark torta di amaretti.  And at a time when everyone thinks that we’ve seen it all with a  polenta, they manage to deliver one against which I will judge all  other polentas. The only reason I give it a 8.5/10, as opposed to a 10, is because the overall impression I have of this meal is  one of an  overall Very good-to-excellent (8.5/10) classic 3 star Michelin meal rather than one of benchmark level (10/10).  Regardless, this is exactly  the  type of classic 3 star Michelin I like most and I would run back to Dal Pescatore way before thinking about going back to Michelin star restaurants that I have rated with a 10/10.  As always, a subjective matter based on personal experiences, etc.
Overall dining experience: 10/10 I have rarely felt so happy in a restaurant, Michelin starred or not. It goes without saying that at this level of dining, every little detail counts and each one  found all along this meal simply scored high on my appreciation scale: the plating, the beautiful and elegant country home decor,  the countryside, the charming and down to earth wait staff met all along this meal , and the qualities I expect from a top dining destination just kept piling up while I was there.

 

To call a restaurant ‘the best in the world’,  you either do it for marketing purpose / generating hype  (for eg, San Pelegrino  World best restaurant’s ranking  ) or you do it based on personal preferences, obviously.  And NO..you do not need to visit every single restaurant in the world to have a good idea of what you could define as YOUR  “best restaurant in the world (only someone who has  no clue of what professional cooking and the high end restaurant scene is really about would need to reassure himself that way..a bit as if you would feel the need to visit every single country  of this globe to get to the conclusion that Americans are among the best at playing Basketball.. ).  For me, for my taste, with respect to what I value as real great “artisan Chef’ cooking, coupled with my profound love for Italian cooking and the countryside of  beautiful Italy, Dal Pescatore is an example of what I would define as a “best restaurant in the world”.

Around two years ago when I decided to review restaurants (NOT really something that I like to do, reasons are explained here, and I do NOT  systematically think about reviews wherever I go, or on whatever I eat,  Lol!), I knew exactly what I wanted in  my reviews: avoiding style at all costs and focusing on what I believe to matter most: assessing the (relative) value of the restaurant food that I am eating.  Ironically, by ‘assessing the value of my restaurant meal”, I went one step further and removed …the price factor…. out of the equation. That is because on top of the already explained reasons that led me to review restaurants, I had one major quibble (with most opinions about restaurant reviews) that jumped to my attention: what if the $$$ was not taken into consideration??  Apparently, from most answers I have gathered throughout the years, most would have found their meals to be excellent had the price been lower! Interesting…So, oftently it is worthy of raves because it was affordable. Let’s take $$$ out of the picture then and focus on what I have in my plate. Make no mistake: I understand  the notion of value for my bucks, but I am interested by one thing ONLY: the deliciousness of the food that I am eating way before its value gets lost in ‘value for money’  interpretation.

Restaurant reviewing is, of course, not limited to one or two aspects of a dining experience. And it does not  have to be something special neither. I personally refuse the idea of  restaurant reviewing on a professional level for a very simple reason: I don’t see why something as personal as this  (talking about the food you eat) would be remunerative , unless you go way beyond the basic restaurant scripts and books of recipes as it is the case for  few  exceptional food journalists  like Quebec’s Marie-Claude Lortie, Perico Légasse in France, John Mariani in the US .  I know,  it (reviewing restaurant as a job) is a pointer, a way to be better informed.  But you have this in tons of  opinions over the web,  and those people are not renumerated. I know some will argue that a professional food critic will provide you with stylish write-ups and professionalism. BUT  that is not what I want in a restaurant review: like it or not, I do not eat ‘style’ nor ‘a sense of professionalism’ nor ‘megalomania expressed through writings”.  I eat food and I just want to know what is offered, how it is made, to what relative level of cooking is the kitchen reaching out to.

There is also the widely preached bogus belief that  anonymous reviews may hide personal agendas.  Even a saint can hide an agenda.  We  all know that.  More importantly, a  normal diner   at a restaurant is anonymous, shall I remind this? And when you dine at a restaurant, guess what…you have opinions on what you have just paid for, with, as it should normally happen… your own hard earned money.  Those opinions can be expressed in many ways: verbally, in writings, etc. So, I do not see any problem with comments from  anonymous or well known sources. They both can either  hide agendas or be honest. No one will ever have any  control over this, anyways. Desperate harmful and insulting views with no constructive and no honest purpose —- which is the only thing that would make sense to fear from an anonymous review–  should obviously NOT be encouraged and this applies to  celeb faces hiding  agendas of restaurant propaganda .  Either way, there should be no  excuse to intimidate freedom of speech.  The debate over anonymous opinions is a debate full of nonsense, a creation of some of the industry’s watchdogs,  a debate pertaining to ancient times when big Daddy, scared of the judgements of others, would command you to show your face before you can  think and judge accordingly.  But humanity has evolved and people  paying for what they consume, with their  own hard earned money, should never accept that the restaurant industry and some of their watchdogs  take control over what we should have as opinions.

Who you are, as a restaurant reporter,  makes absolutely no difference: this type of opinions (about restaurants) are subjective anyways, no matter how credible you might think you are, and consequently, knowing what you like or not, what you are hiding or not,  is of utter irrelevance. We should do this (sharing our opinion) for the simple sake of sharing knowledge but certainly not as an exercise of potential serious  influence on the choices of others. As far as I am concerned, my agenda is clear: it’s written here  and as explained, I wanted to experience for myself the journey of  an independent voice completely detached from the restaurant industry.  I wanted to be able to rave –or not — about what I felt authentically deserving of its raves –or not –, to be able to freely convey what I really had in mind as opposed to be influenced by outside elements.  Naturally, I can afford behaving this way (fully enjoying the role of  a normal diner,  being independent from the industry, mocking at style or etiquette) and abide by my own principles no matter who says what —  only because I have no commercial interest in the restaurant business . I took time to write this because there is nowadays a universal debate around the subject (of anonymous restaurant reviews), a non-debate in my pertinacious view, thus my two little cents on this matter.  This is my opinion, and I’ll proudly and obdurately drink to that, Rfaol!

Before I write about the current reviewed restaurant – Every gourmand’s dream is to find the  best value restaurant at the very top level of world’s fine dining. Once every 5  years or so, I  stumble upon one and lately,  it is in Chicaco, Illinois. It is L2o, a restaurant that I  have discovered back in the days of Chef Laurent Gras. It was back then already deserving its 3 stars. Then Chef Francis Brennan took control of the kitchen, and the solid 3 star Michelin performance kept rising to the top. Now, that Chef Brennan left, it was downgraded to a 1 star Michelin restaurant and I recently had a meal there, under its present 1 star Michelin assignment,  and everyone at my table (they are regulars of world’s haute dining extravaganza) agreed: it is, between you and me, the current best value at the very top Michelin star dining level, and Chef Matthew Kirkley is, for now, the most underrated Chef in the world. You get a top 3 star Michelin dining at an official 1 star Michelin. Other great discovery, lately: La Table d’Aki (after more than 2 decades alongside Bernard Pacaud of 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie, Chef Akihiro Horikoshi has opened his own little bistrot and is unleashing some of the secrets that made of Chef Pacaud one of the most respected icons of La France gourmande. A great way to sample the sense of classic culinaric savourishness of Chef Pacaud, brought to us by Aki, at very sweet $$$. Check that out: Table D’Aki, 49, rue Vaneau, 7th Arr, Paris.  Phone: 01 45 44 43 48).

And now, our featuring restaurant review (Lunch on Thurs June 14th, 2012 at noon):

Dal Pescatore, its cuisine, its Chefs –  Dal Pescatore is  a restaurant of haute Italian cuisine balanced between innovation and tradition. The latter (balanced between innovation and tradition)  being a description that is dear to them; on their web site they do insist on this, and it is also, based on my meal there, a realistic portray of their cooking style. Innovation here means that it brings an updated approach to a style of Italian Haute dining that remains classic (with a focus on its surrounding regional fares: for ie risottos, nearby Mantuan pasta dishes, other Italian classics especially from their local Lombardy region ), but it is by no means into  futuristic culinary styles. They do also insist on the food being wholesome.  It is among restaurant Magazine top 50 best tables of the world, a member of the prestigious ‘Les Grandes Tables du Monde” as well as earning three Michelin stars since 1996 (only seven Italian restaurants boast three stars). It is considered by Paul Bocuse, the pope of French gastronomy and many top culinary journalists such as Gilles Pudlowski and John Mariani as well as frequent patrons of the haute dining scene as  the very best restaurant in the world. High profile chefs such as Anne-Sophie Pic had their lifetime’s best meal here. The soul of Dal Pescatore, Chef Nadia Santini (one of her sons, Giovanni,  is nowadays an active Chef at this  restaurant  as well as their legendary Mama Bruna / I recommend that you read their story on their web site, it is an interesting read – it’s surely fun to observe how they evolved from a 1920s countryside tavern to the top of world’s Alta cucina, for ie, or how Nadia Santini went from studies in Political Sciences to the position of  one of world’s most respected 3 star Michelin Chefs / It is also amazing to note that Chef Nadia Santini rejects the idea of a brigade in a kitchen; she is one of the very rare top Chefs around the globe who thinks that hierarchy is unnecessary in a kitchen and that everyone should work as equal members of one team)  is frequently mentioned as one of the top 3 best female Chefs in the world alongside  Pic (Maison Pic, France) and Elena Arzak (Arzak, Spain).  Many grand Chefs have also trained and honed their culinary philosophy here: LA’s Sotto Chef Steve Samson , Celebrity Chef Todd English, Malibu’s Granita Restaurant Chef Jennifer Naylor, Chicago’s Spiaggia Chefs Sarah Grueneberg, Tony Mantuano and many more. Other  high profile Chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Giorgio Locatelli and top British Chef Angela Hartnett have expressed great admiration for DP. It is always admirable  to learn that such a Grand Chef like Nadia Santini (who, after numerous years of excelling at such top level,  would be in the excusable position of saying ‘I have nothing to prove anymore’)  is always in her kitchen  in a world where ‘embryo’ cooks with a lot left to be proven are busy parading afar from where they are supposed to be found!

Decor –  A mix of classic and contemporary elegance with emphasis  on ‘ la gioia di vivere ‘ , the joy of life, as easily expressed by the possibility of indulging in one of Italians favourite custom ‘Mangia fuori’  on their  veranda in summer,  evidences of cozyness  (fireplaces, the joyful color scheme of the 3 dining rooms, the wooden floor  that gives the room a warm and intimate feel), the  artworks on the wall. Pastel colored walls (in pure Northern Italian decorating style , the colors pay respect to various elements of the surrounding countryside:  lakes, earth, etc), beautifully laid tables positioned for privacy.  Think of the restaurant as a  sophisticated  country house  with  a peaceful view on a well  kept garden.

Location –  Dal Pescatore is located in the village of Runate, municipality of Canneto sull’Oglio, in the province of Mantova (region of Lombardia),  North of  Parma, East of Milan. Around 65 km from Verona Intl Airport, 115 kms from Milan Linate Airport, 150 kms from Milan Malpensa Airport. I’d suggest you include a dinner here within a tour of Lombardy’s main attractions (historical cities of Mantova, Modena, Cremona, Parma / the urban life of  Milan / scenic places like lakes Maggiore, Como, Garda). Hire a car.

Produce–  I have always admired Chefs who are really close to the land, to the point of growing most of their own food. I have always favored Chefs who are really close to their local produce and artisans. That is perhaps why I always had a soft spot for the  work of Chef Alain Passard at L’Arpège, Chef Patrice Gelbart who used to work at ‘Aux Berges du Cérou’ or Chef Craig Shelton who was at the helm of the  Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, New Jersey. I remember my excitement when, during a dinner at the Ryland Inn (Chef Shelton does not work there since years, now), Chef Shelton kept rushing between his garden and his kitchen making sure that optimal freshness was present on our plates. He had that strict  ‘xxx minutes maximum delay’ ..5 or 7 mins if I remember properly (Chef Shelton was a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement on the East Coast in the US) …in between picking the ingredient, getting it cooked and served. Of course, Chef Shelton is an exceptionally skilled Chef and I would have never mentioned this had his food not been of stellar mention. Years later, here I am in Canneto sull’Oglio and the Santinis have that exact same philosophy at heart: they raise most of their vegetables on the premises.

The food report

I started with a tomato compote of stunning marinda (from Sardinia, Italy)  tomato flavor 10/10.  It’s a great example of why Italian food is so well respected: startling simplicity and beautiful produce. Italians know how to make you rediscover the real flavor of an ingredient. I am not rating this with a 10 just for the produce alone: a  touch of beautifully aged balsamic and inspired hands brought this tomato to palatable triumph.

Followed by Porcini, Fegato di Vitello (Veal liver), romarino (rosemary) – Flawless cooking technique as shown all along this meal. The mushroom packed with deep earthy flavors that complemented so well with the veal liver. No quibble here: cooking achieved beautifully and flavors as good as you can get from a nicely prepared veal liver. 8/10

Then, Tortelli di Zucca (Zucca, Amaretti, Mostarda, e Parmigiano Reggiano) – tortelli with pumpkin, amaretti biscuits,  mostarda (a type of candied fruit and mustard chutney condiment and a speciality of Lombardia) and Parmesan – Star Chef Todd English has always praised Dal Pescatore for for being the place where he learned everything about pasta and  the work of the dough. Pasta making is indeed pushed to high level of conception, here. It is artisanal pasta, hand made on the premises. Pasta can’t be fresher than this: they make it only when you order. One Pasta signature dish of Dal Pescatore is Tortelli di Zucca, and a Mantuan classic:  made of pumpkin (Zucca), nutmeg, a bit of cinnamon, cloves, mostarda (A ‘glacé fruit’  preserved  in a spicy syrup), Italian almond-flavored cookies (Amaretti) and the iconic cheese of this region: their Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are using, in Mantua, an ingredient that adds so much to pasta: pumpkin, as expected,  does indeed add amazing texture and superb flavor.  Its sweet, and yet savory nature teasing the palate. As a quick reference, if you had sampled Chef Todd Stein’s iconic “Caramelli dish” (pasta filled with butternut squash, sage, amaretti crumbs) when he was at the helm of Restaurant Cibo Matto in Chicago – that dish made  it to America’s best pasta dishes of several top food magazines —  then think of Tortelli di Zucca as its elder (not served the same way, and not fully identical, but the basic idea and also ingredients behind both dishes are similar) .  Dal Pescatore’s version was flawless: the mostarda enhancing the pumpkin with lots of panache, the pasta itself is impeccably executed, its texture utterly refined, the taste is of course a bit less rich and rustic compared to the tortelli di zucca I tried at the other places in the region but this is understandable since this is fine dining and not rustic dining. Also, the Santinis focus a lot on good healthy food, therefore food that’s  not overwhelmingly rich nor too rustic. What justifies, in my opinion, a 3 star Michelin meal is its depth of precision in balancing, better than many others, the flavors, textures and  other cooking aspects (timing of the cooking, judicious choice of the ingredient combination, effective usage of heat, etc) that are involved on a dish, all things achieved brilliantly on this dish. PS: Try this recipe at home . Excellent. 9/10

Ravioli di Faraona – Guinea fowl ravioli was of benchmark 3 star Michelin material. The preparation of the pasta, its impeccable texture, the outstanding balance of flavors, the superb mouthfeel are just a fraction of the superlaives I could use to discribe the amazement of this dish. 10/10

Then Branzino con olio extravergine umbro, Prezzemolo, Acciughe e Capperi di Salina – Excellent seabass that retained its well known enjoyable mild flavor, its flesh was firm and immaculately white as any top quality fresh seabass has to, the cooking achieved to ideal moisture retention.  8.5/10

Followed by Risotto con pistilli di zafferano e aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena (sometimes it is ‘Risotto (Vialone Nano) con pistilli di Zafferano e Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale ) – Saffron risotto with traditional Balsamic vinegar from Modena  – They grow their own saffron on the premises and this is thoughtful: it has nothing to do with the average  saffron I am accustomed to, and that you find in most saffron risotti of the region. This saffron has a superior subtle aromatic freshness that, on its own, transforms their risotto into a unique one.  But the kitchen goes beyond the full satisfaction of their spice, and as stands true to a good Il Bagatto, it brings another secret weapon to the center stage of the show: the ethereal aged authentic Modena balsamic vinegar with its mesmerizing long finish flavor. Vialone Nano, well known for absorbing liquid better than many other rices,  is indeed the appropriate rice that needed to be used for this risotto dish. Of this dish, I’ll remember the great technique, the superb taste that can only come from a top quality stock, the  proper heat regulation and excellent texture.   9/10

Cappello da Prete di Manzo al Barbera e Polenta Gialla di Storo – braised shoulder of beef   slowly cooked in Barbera wine with  polenta  –  Cappello del prete is a cut of beef ideal for braising (although, in my view,  not quite at the level of what a meat like  beef cheeks can deliver when it’s braised to its  prime) . The meat was cooked to tender consistency for long hours in a rich Barbera wine based sauce. This dish, due to its comforting nature could have been  predictably less memorable but it was not: the sauce was reduced as it should, the delicious juice-infused beefy meat  kept   an ideal tender consistency to it, the exemplary polenta (if you see a cook looking down on polenta…it is not a Chef, it is just a lesser cook who badly needs to get a taste of a polenta like this one so that he will forever understand how he was never made aware of the full potential that lies ahead of such a supposedly simple fare). The reduced sauce was remarkable, even for this level of dining. 9/10

Amaretti Torta –  For years, I have made Amaretti torta many times (this  as well as torta sabbiosa, zabaione and chiacchere are among my favourite Italian desserts/cakes), and I just like tasting it whenever it is baked by others, just to see how far they push it,  therefore an appealing pick for me. This one had a good ratio of the basic ingredients necessary to make this cake (choco chips, amaretti cookies, etc). The amaretti base was impeccably made, the cake itself cooled down to room temp, had proper moist consistency and was packed with a depth of enticing chocolate, coffee and almond aromas. Easily, a benchmark amaretti torta  10/10

I was warned by some of my Italian foodie friends that on Italy’s best tables,  I should not expect petits fours of the standard found on France’s best 3 star Michelin tables. They were wrong: the array of fabulous petits fours (various chocolate creations, mini fruit tart, etc)  on display could have been served at a top 3 star Michelin table in France and I would see no difference. They were that great, and I had a huge smile when I sampled the solo  cherry featuring among those petits fours:  I urge anyone to find me a better cherry! 10/10

My short conclusion on this meal at Dal Pescatore –  The strength of this meal I just had at DP lies in (1) how this cuisine  is entirely symbiotic with its environment and  (2) how most of the dishes are perfected:  the pastas I had would set the bar for their artistry in colors, their flawless textures,  their delectable stuffings.  The risotto I have just tasted is also of that level of culinary mastery.  I was quite surprised (in a good way) by this performance, even by the standards expected at this level of dining. Almost everything was copacetic all along this meal.  The minimum at such standards of dining  is food that’s  refined and well done, for sure,  but  it was still remarkable to find items as eventful as some that I have just tasted. Many among world’s most talented Chefs have a spectacular culinaric sense, but few have an exceptional palate. Whoever has cooked the ravioli faraona, the tomato compote, the petits fours  and the amaretti torta can be counted amongst the latter. I don’t know Dal Pescatore enoughly well so I can’t really tell which dish  was cooked by Chef Nadia Santini, her son, or by Mama Bruna, etc —  something I generally like to know since each person has a signature cooking touch and that aspect matters to me —  but  I could observe a common denominator in their cooking as a team: they favor harmonious flavours. I wanted a repast exempt from what I perceive as the UNECESSARY (the pipettes, the foams, the paintings on the plate, and tons of other gimmicks), a meal focusing on the pleasure of eating real food, enjoying the best local produce. You can eat very well at low cost in Italy (If you stumble upon a bad cook in Italy, my guess is that it is not a cook…it is an impersonator who just wants to make a quick buck…because here, it is not the ‘buzz’ that dictates who you are —some cooks in some cities will recognize themselves in the latest statement —  it is oftently real talent! Hard working Real Chefs cooking for real….), but on this occasion, I wanted this simple and delicious cuisine expressed in its most refined version. That is exactly why I went to DP and that is also what I got.

From an aphorism of France’s 20th century best known writer, Curnonsky: “Good cooking is when things taste of what they are.”. Curnonsky would have been very happy with most dishes of this meal: wherever things looked simple, they were elevated with brio, but never through gimmicks and only with inspired emphasis on their very own nature. Simplicity, I’ll always reiterate, is nice only when it is in the hands of a gifted Chef.

In fine, for the food on this meal, I’ll underline the careful balance of flavors on all of the dishes, the importance of never roaming away from the comfort zone of a nice hearty classic dish (their meat, their pasta dishes) while adding the touch of superior inspiration and culinaric effort expected at this echelon .

PS: Wine – One of my favourite all time red wines accompanied this meal. It’s a 2008 Pergole Torte Sangiovese (memorable licorice aromas, perfectly balanced tannins). Talking about their wine list, it not only suits to all budgets and covers a big part of the globe (of course Italy and France, but also Australia, Lebanon, New Zeland, etc), but how thoughtful was that to classify it by type of wines (for ie, Franciorta – Trento classico e altri spumanti, Bianchi Italiani, Rossi Italiani, etc), then by vintage years. Here’s a sommelier who perfectly understands the importance of a logically well conceived wine list. Another great moment: a glass of giulio ferrari 2001, a must when it comes to bubbles.

PROS (of this  meal at Dal Pescatore):  In the days leading to my meal at DP, I have enjoyed Mantuan food at some serious trattorias  of the region.I was also lucky enough to have sampled the food of two  talented nonnas living in the region,too.  So, my experience and expectations of my meal at DP was  different, from, say, the standard food traveller who would have just visited DP with, i mind, some  general knowledge of Italian food (as opposed to accurate information  about Mantuan food and what should be expected from an  interpretation of this specific cuisine). There are things  that I am not fond of, such as the tad-less-runnier  texture of the risotti that Classic Mantuan cuisine tend to favor, but that is just a matter of preference and should not be assessed as inferior to the sort of a bit-more-runnier textured  risotti that can be found, for example, in the region of Veneto. It is just two different ways of taking the risotto.  DP clearly offered a perfected interpretation of Mantuan Classics.  I had a great time, here and this (great food, great wine, top service, nothing overworked but to the contrary brought up in a natural appealing way may it be in the behaviour of the staff, the presentation of the food, etc) is exactly what I do expect from a 3 star Michelin dining venture.
CONS (of this meal at Dal Pescatore): When a heart is happy, there’s nothing to pique at.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – Your judgement of a meal goes down to who you are.  I am someone who believes that greatness is about doing the most with the least. So simplicity done this well is,  to me, the definition of perfection. It’s a classic place, so if classic is not your thing, you have tons of tables for you: Noma, Thierry Marx, The Fat Duck, Alinea, etc. If you want noise, buzz, hype, trend, there are tons of popular bistrots and restaurants around the world that will fit the bill. On the other hand, if like me, you believe in great classic cooking, then DP is a benchmark table. For me, for my taste, with respect to what  I value as  real great cooking, Dal Pescatore is an example of what I would define as a “best restaurant in the world”. I loved Dal Pescatore.

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I will be honest with you, I get bored reviewing restaurants. I initially didn’t even want to do this (read this on my 3 star Michelin web site). As a matter of fact, I am now reviewing just 10-20% of the places that I am visiting  because many of them are not offering food that would justify that I spend time writing about . When I keep saying to people that I am not a true foodie, I guess you have right there a perfect confirmation of what I am talking about (I respect foodies and believe that they are the best architects of the newly-found enthusiasm for exciting dining experiences, but I know myself enoughly well to assert that I do not have their genuine enthusiam. I am just a cold hunter for what I believe is food that stands out in my view, but I don’t get any satisfaction in eating out just for the pleasure of doing so). To find motivation in continuing to write, I will vary once in a while between restaurant reviews, interviews of the greatest Chefs around the globe and culinary reportages.

This is only my second interview with one of the grand Chefs of the globe. Previous interview was with Chef Corey Lee, Ex 3 star Michelin Chef who was at the helm of the French Laundry (CA) when this restaurant was among Restaurant Magazine’s top 5 best tables of the world. Chef Lee is now at Restaurant Benu, SF (I am planning a culinary trip to SF in  the future which will include Manresa, Benu, FL, Bouchon, Ubuntu, Saison, Atelier Crenn but Benu won’t be reviewed since Chef Lee was interviewed here. Sounds not cool, but I find it more important to remain loyal to my principles.). As a reminder of my strict code of ethics: the restaurants which Chefs I am interviewing will never be reviewed. This reaches out to the very 1st rule behind my decision of reviewing restaurants: never interacting with the staff of restaurants that I review. An interview is an interaction, so no review!

This time, I am interviewing Chef Luisa Valazza of 3 star Michelin Al Sorriso in the city of Sorriso. Her restaurant is known, in world’s finest dining circles, as one of the very best of the world. Chef Valazza is also the perfect choice for the  type of Chefs that I praise a lot: an artisan Chef, far from the big buzz, busy behind her stoves, the only place we need a talented Chef to shine. Before publishing the interview, I want to thank Chefs like Corey Lee and Luisa Valazza for being down to earth, open to answer any questions coming from any of their customers. This sounds like a small detail, but in a world where many Chefs forget where they came from, and what brought them to the highest praises, it’s touching to see Chefs, among the very best in their domain, finding time and humility to answer the questions of their real customers, you and I, anonymous Joes!

Last but not least, Chef Valazza being Italian and not British, I dearly hope that you will remain open minded and thankful to her efforts to express herself in English. I am myself French and I feel flattered (and am thankful to them) to see English people sometimes trying their best to share with me in my own language. So let’s remain open minded and get the most out of this constructive interview :

Question #1: Chef Valazza , you have been at the helm of your  3 star Michelin table for a while now. In retrospective, would you be able to pint point the exact evolution steps that made you evolve from a 1 star to a second then to a 3rd. For ie: have there been very precise actions that got you going from a 1st to 2nd star. Then from a 2nd to a 3rd? Did you make major changes to your cooking in between each of those steps? Or has this been the fruit of improvement in service, decor?  This is a question that I thought interesting to ask since many 3 star Michelin Chefs would simply respond that they got the 3rd star upon continuous hard work. Although that is surely true, it would be very informative to be more accurate about those steps of evolution.

 

My  first coming  in tu  the ciuisine it was on  November 1981  because  the   chef  we had  went away , so  i  decided  that  the  better  way it was to take  the  responsability of  the  Cuisine  , tu have a continualy  style.

Whit great work i had  the   first  Michelin  star on  1982  a Surprice,  and  continuing in to the pledge  and reserch i had  the satisfaction to have  the  2d star  even a  surprice. on 1988. i was crying .
I was feeling  more  responsable, bat  the  passion  and  thee desire of beeng  better geve to me the  sprein to  continuing  to reserce  the  best way  to an expression on my  plaite the  taste  and  the  parfum  of the Italian  cuisine.

all these bring  mee after  10  years  to have  with  a great  surprice  the  3rd  Michelin  star. with  great  and  hard  work  i crowned the  dream of  evry  chef.

 

Question #2: Italy has great produce and a cuisine that’s mosly glorious in its simplicity. But it slightly differs from region to region. What type of cooking do you offer: a recap of Italian cuisine from all corners of Italy?  Or Italian Cuisine from your  region of Piedmont only?  And how would you consider your cooking: a modern take or a personal re-interpretation of  Italian cooking ?

 

On  my  cuisine  thereis not only an interpretation of the  Piemontese  cuisine  but  i am looking in th the  region  around  Piemonte , introducing also even  fish from  the see , ( Sardegna , Sicily , Liguria  and everywhere there are better product. )  My  cuisine is  a cuisine of  reserce of the  traditional Italian cuisine in a modern Key.

 

Question #3: I have heard that you are a self-made Chef. So no trainning at all? Just going from home cooking up to 3 michelin star excellence?

 

Yes  I am professor of Italian Lecterture and  come  from University to the cuisine , on  my  family  my  mother  was also a professor  but she cooked at home and i never  tuch a pot before.

when i Married  my  husband  i  prefered  to do his job  , starting  first study  of  Italian cuisine book  from  old  and  new  cuisine  

 

Question #4: Many 3 star Michelin restaurants have some signature dishes that are the imprint of their culinaric work. For ie, the seabass/caviar at l’Ambroisie, the Eel toast at LeDoyen, etc.  I believe  this makes sense since at 3 star Michelin standard, the level of dining is so high that it needs to leave its imprints. To a first time diner at your 3 star Michelin restaurant, what can you recommend as signature dishes? What inspired you in creating those signature dishes and  what reflexion/message did you want to communicate through those dishes?

 

My  important plait are  1st  the  ”  patata  all’uovo gratinata  al  tarufo d’Alba ”     2d   ”  fungo porcino farcito con olio e aglio di Vessalico  ”  3rd   ”  The  green  ravioli  with Bettelmatt cheese and wild herbs  “

The  message i transmet to the  guest  is  the  semplicity, great product, great  taste.

 

Question #5 – Piedmont seems like the ideal place to open a restaurant: self-sufficient (wines, cheeses, meats, etc are found in this region). Was this the primary reason that led to the opening of your 3 star Michelin table in the beginning? What about your clientele: are they mostly gastronomic travelers to Piedmont? Italians? Foreigners?

 

The  reason we open a restaurant in  Piemonte  is  that we are  Piemontese  from Here  Luisa is  from SORISO  and  Angelo  From  BOCA  near SORISO

My  clientele are  gourmet and  people they like good Cuisine  , must of  them are foreigner  from all ower the Word .
Hope  you  cann understand every  thing i send you  my  best  regards

Luisa  Valazza


Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
Event: Dinner at  Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
When: Friday September 16th 2011,  7PM
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: Schloßstraße 27-29, D-66706 Perl-Nennig/Mosel
Email: info@victors-gourmet.de
URL: http://www.victors-gourmet.de/englisch/gourmet_restaurant/index.php
Chef Bau’s web site:  http://www.christian-bau.de
Phone: 49 (0) 68 66/79-458
Type of cuisine:  Modern French/Cosmopolitan

Overall food rating (by 3 star Michelin standards)10/10 Chef  Bau is a  magician with the exceptional ability of those few who will always set the bar (the precision and depth of  his cooking skills is of prime mention), for others to follow. He is to food what  a virtuoso is to music. An exceptional virtuoso.

Service:   10 /10 They are mostly young, open minded and hard working. Their hard work shows.
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 This is different from the grand Parisian 3 Michelin stars, and yet
it provided, on this dinner, an overall dining experience that is as exciting as the best ones found in France.
Food rating:  Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

 

I measure the genius of a Chef  in his  ability to showcase  a  substantial depth of skills  that his peers can’t accomplish as succesfully.    For those in the know, Chef Christian Bau has the skills for others to follow, especially his exceptional precise work of shapes, colors and flavors. I have no clue if he is there all the time behind his kitchen, but when he is cooking, which was the case on that evening, there is no doubt in my mind that he is among the few truely  gifted Chefs of the globe.

Before going ahead, a quick declaration of respect  to one of the   the world’s most exciting Chefs of our time, El Bulli’s Adria . As we all know, El Bulli has closed its doors (as a restaurant) in July.  I am buying all your books, Chef, and shall practice all your tricks! So that the amazing artist that I saw in you remains present in my mind, the mind of a classic-cuisine gourmand, btw! Proof that even the most traditionalists among us have embraced your cult! Hasta siempre, Jefe! As for those who are looking after the next clone of Adria:  forget clones, folks! Your best souvenirs are ..your best souvenirs.  They perfume your memories till you lose it, and that is it.

Wow, this has been  the shortest but most intense constructive trip I ever had in Europe:  four little days  of culinary congress, meetings, exchanges.  Only a few knows this, but aside from  Sciences, Litterature, Economics and Politics, one of my long time passion has been the research of enhancing flavor combinations in classic food.  Basically, what Jefe Ferran Adria does with progressive cooking at El Bulli , I do the same with classic cuisine. Where the latest cook who has just completed his culinary degree tells you that he is excited to test progressive cuisine because there’s not much  to discover with a simple classic filet mignon, I spend timeless moments in  my kitchen finding the ingredients or best cooking technique to ‘rejuvenate’  that  classic filet mignon.  This is why you won’t fail  to realize that my favourite Chefs mostly happen  —- whether they’ve chosen to partake in the progressive cooking trend or not — to   have a great depth of mastery  in classic cooking.  As soon as I have some time,  I will try to write about those congresses I’ve just talked about (truly interesting for us, gourmands from all around the world).  Then I had to end this European mini tour with —of course —  a bit of self-pampering:  I had either El Celler de Can Roca (Girona) or one of Germany’s top 3 star Michelin tables on my short list of tables I’d be interested to visit since a long time.  Spain is my type of  country. It’s a place where I’ll go back oftently anyways,  it’s even a place where there are big chances that I spend the rest of my life.   So I went  for Germany this time. Destination: Perl.  Perl-Nennig.   My final choice: Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg.

The city of  Perl-Nennig, where Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg  is located,  is  in a geographical area that is famous for its vineyards, castles (the restaurant Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg happens to be is in a renaissance castle)  and scenic surroundings that I unfortunately did not take time to explore on this visit, but if this is of interest for you, I’d recommend you have a look at Rick Steve‘s article on that region. This trip there was the conclusion of months of been puzzled between Chef Bau‘s restaurant where it is located, and another German 3-star Michelin:  Waldhotel Sonnora‘s restaurant.  Waldhotel Sonnora  was actually my very 1st choice for its more classical cooking,  but since it sounded too remote and way too complicated to get there by train (my only mean of transport during this trip),  I ended opting for Victor Gourmet-Restaurant  Schloss Berg. The thing that attracted me to  both 3-star Michelin restaurants is their  reputation for consistency.  I have rarely sat at a 3-star Michelin with food consistently good from the 1st amuse bouche to the last mignardise, one of the few exceptions being the last meal at L’Ambroisie in Paris, or the last meals at Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Fredy Girardet in 1995 (both are now closed, since) where each dish lived up to what I do expect at this level of dining. A suggestion: if you are in Perl Nennig and have hired a car, head to the tiny Luxembourg town of Remich for refuel (it’s at approx 3,4 kms from Nennig). It will be less expensive to refuel there. And Remich is a little town I’d recommend that you visit, especially in summer (it’s lively!).

My take on Chef Bau’s  Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg:  Known as one of the most brilliant 3-star Michelin Chefs around the globe, Christian Bau has chosen not to create a restaurant empire like many of his peers. Instead, he prefers perfecting his cooking in the kitchen of his triple-starred Michelin stronghold of Perl-Nennig. An aspect that I  value a lot in a Chef’s philosophy (reminder: on top of being completely independent from anything  related to the restaurant world, I do also insist on mostly dining  at restaurants where you have the actual Chef behind his stoves instead of running after popularity contests and leaving his customers to name bearers). He first earned an initial Michelin star in 1998, followed by a second one in 1999, and was awarded his third in 2005. A third Michelin star that he retains since then.

Many, among some of the connoisseurs of world’s finest tables, argue that the only reason Chef Bau’s restaurant is not a worldwide attraction has got to do with its secluded location (the restaurant is located in the remote German’s Saarland  state, a territory bordering France and Luxembourg). In my opinion, the location  is far from being an issue: it is situated at 30 mins drive from the major urban area of Luxembourg-city.  Those connoisseurs did  also express their dissatisfaction over the fact that Chef Bau’s talent  is not recognized by worldwide restaurant listings like the S Pellegrino’s Top 100 world best dining ventures, an observation to which I’ll append my personal  opinion:

If you play attention at that list, you quickly realize that most of the featuring restaurants are ones that did set  themselves apart by their persistent adoption  of a given culinary trend:  for ie, the molecular movement (Fat Duck, El Bulli, Alinea etc), the ‘rise’ of  bosky cuisine (Noma, for ie), the unique progressive touches of Mugaritz or Quique Da Costa,  the unorthodox style of Iñaki Aizpitarte’s Le Chateaubriand, etc.  But of course, being unique in a daring way does not necessarily mean  being among the best (or does it? I’ll leave this to your discretion), which brings us back to our featuring restaurant review:  Chef Bau is currently not making the headlines of world’s gastronomy perhaps because he is not trying to follow trends for the sake of popularity nor trying to reinvent the wheel, and that did not stop him from being, in facts,  at the very top.  Bau has spent years alongside legendary German Chef Harald Wohlfahrt (perhaps one of the few Chefs that I admire the most, for his amazing food, naturally, but also for one of the most fabulous Chef quotes ‘’Don’t cook out of ambition because this is what your food will taste like’’), prior to his appointment as Chef of Victor’s Gourmet-restaurant Schloss Berg in 1997.

NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONAs/per the house, photo taking is normally forbidden to everyone, normal diners or not. I was fine with that rule, because my point is to experience things the way a normal diner would experience it (this blog sole intent is to share just with close friends and relatives. In the process, I am sharing it with the rest of the web, for just knowledge sharing as the sole motivation). But they told me that on that evening, a bunch of food bloggers and food journalists were paying a visit to them and were allowed to take pics, therefore that restriction was loosened and I could thereore feel free to seize the occasion and take pics of my meal, which I did. I am taking the time to write this because I believe in  ‘honesty” as the first mandatory step of anything we shall aim at.

The  menu:  it is a tasting menu, at the discretion of the Chef,  that they call ‘voyage culinaire” for its international influences.  You can be served   4,  6, 8 or 10 courses , but whatever set of courses you are opting for, they will also offer 8,9 free extra nibbles +  an array of mignardises. And those are outstanding nibbles! This is one of the most affordable 3 Star Michelin tables.

Decor:  Omnipresence of  light warm  tones in an overall decor that is nicely balanced between elements of victorian and contemporary design .  Having myself spent  time studying the influence of colors on a diner’s appetite, that specific aspect naturally caught my attention at this restaurant: whether it  was their intent or not, color psychology is better mastered here than at any other restaurant that comes to mind. A beautiful and smart use of appetizing colors; for ie the light brown  of their wooden floors or the discrete sparse  touches of red  (mini flower pots of gorgeous red roses on the table, on this evening) follow the principle of  the ‘appetizing color’ theme.

Food

I led off with a parade of  bite-size savoury  appetizers that showcased  ingenuity:

As an ie, cornet with   tenderloin, Räucheraalcreme (smoked eel cream ) & chives – finely hand-cut meat to a consistency that’s ideal for tartares, accurate seasoning and mix-ins;  at the art of intensifying taste and flavor, you can’t go wrong when you pair a perfectly conceived beef tartare with the addictive richness of a well composed smoked eel cream. Not to forget  the  elegant and ideal aromatic substitute to onion: the chives. That was naturally eventful and it deserves its full 10/10 marks

-Parmesan crust with yuzu confiture had a  terrific crunchy cheesy appeal marrying perfectly with the yuzu flavor 10/10

The array of  impressive nibbles went on with

– Jabugo Bellota ‘Puro’ (I’m a big fan of this ‘crème de la crème’ well praised ham; the bellota type is truly sublime – As I’ve learned with time, the Spaniards always back buzz with effective accomplishments. Not just blabla and wind just to cash in mileages of advertising non deserved visibility;) atop a flawless and delicious creative risotto-inspired mini ball of rice. 10/10

-Majorcan gamba  with lardo and caviar had an addictive multi-dimensional parade of marine fresh  flavors 10/10

– Crab cracker with hamachi, fennel & apple, green tea biscuit with lobster and kimizu was a show-stopper for its surprising balance of complex  tastes and textures. It showed in terms of “culinary prouesse” the humongous depth of technical mastery of Chef Christian Bau. That depth kept shining throughout the entire meal, a rare occurence at any level of dining. 10/10

-Bio carrot  with yogurt and coriander (the left side photo) was simply startling: I’d not be surprised to learn that  it would be hard  to find a better veloute of carrot than this. The kick of coriander  adding an extra dimension of remarkable tastes. This came along a refined veggie sushi and phenomenal moussy take on carrots 10/10

There was also a plate of 5 creations based on bluefin tuna with Miso, soja and cucumber. It will be hard to put in words the level of impressive successful complexity at play on each of those 5 morsels. Startling! 10/10

Not one single flaw throughout that exposition of superb  mini culinary concoctions. Nine mini courses  before the main dishes arrive, imagine! Generosity is the motto.

The first main course arrived:

A construction around oyster. A succulent lucious and juicy poached oyster was paired with oyster-flavored refined chips, pearl-looking creations  oozing of amazing fresh oysteriness, combava as the citrus enhancer and algae (passe-pierre) for a concerto of pure  palatable amazement . Complex, exciting and so thoughtful 10/10

Sea spider took me by surprise. I expected some kind of tempura sea-spider. The sea spider came as a meaty roll, this was actually reminescent of crab meat imho  but it was sea spider. Part of the appeal of this dish is its clever conceptualization:  you can see   that each item was diligently thought and carefully selected  in relation to the next (I have rarely seen a Chef pairing so flawlessly and excitingly veggies with seafood. It sounds like an easy thing and most of the time it’s a common affair, but the way Chef Bau marries veggies and seafood make them pass as items of the same  species).  The flavour of  the seafood  is maintained in its pure form, its taste as delicate as it should.  He adds lots of  extra textural and taste dimensions to all his dishes (I could count at least 8 different components on that dish) and what turns usually as a big risk in most talented hands  is like a piece of cake for him. To epitomize what I’ve just asserted, a creamy velouté of green veggies poured over this dish tasted like a tantalizing seafood enhancer to the sea spider rather than tasting of some futile veggie cream thrown against seafood. 10/10

The next offering (which I forgot to take a picture of ) was goose liver  from the Landes (au torchon) wrapped by top quality seaweed. I have to admit that I was lucky to have sampled some stunning quality foie gras (duck and sometimes goose as well) in the past (in Quebec, France and in some other countries), but this one has a phenomenal taste that I won’t forget as long as my memory serves me. A modern take on a ragout of mushrooms with a citrusy hint of sudachi (a citrus fruit) complemented the dish. This course  had great finesse with a mouthfeel worthy of superlatives. 10/10

A serving of artichoke from France’s region of Bretagne rose as the epitomy of the perfect artichoke-centric dish: it had jabugo bellota ham , parmesan foam and artichoke root sauce imparting an impressive depth of  enticing flavours to this dish. The care, composition and  cooking mastery  behind this dish were herculean in scope, the presentation immaculate. As with each menu item  that I was served all along this tasting, accurate cooking times were skilfully surveyed and the technique, impeccable. The taste, a pure bliss with each mouthful insisting on the next. 10/10

The next course  exalted by a delicious meaty piece of irreproachable fresh prawn (the Gamberoni was cooked à la plancha and kept its genuine marine flavor). The small green “globes” you see on the picture are made of peas and were packed with unusual exquisite taste.  A cream of Kombuseaweed had impressive taste sensation that stood out in a very distinct way and lightened the dish. Another item that was mingling so well in this successful concerto of tastes and textures was Jasmin rice broth with coconut infusion: it  was a fun and creative take on what looks like rice crispy  but  would then give rice crispy a newly discovered refined state. Here’s a dish that attracts me  towards its creativity.  10/10

A plate of  Atlantic turbot was next.  The fish on its own had perfect flasky consistency and the flesh,  translucent. The exquisite moistness of the fish was superb. It was combined with sweet potato dots, the brilliant addition of a mouth watering gingery sauce, the crunchy nutty dimension of the hazelnuts that was topping the fish.   A sensational culinary creation with ingredients which sourcing is exemplary and perhaps one of my lifetime favourite cosmopolitan dish (there was, once all items were mixed together, a middle Eastern feel to this dish that propulsed me in heaven – literally). Chef Bau count among the exceptional few who can offer some of the most creative and exciting cosmopolitan dishes of our era.  10/10

Bresse-Pigeon from Mieral – This  preparation perfectly accented the natural flavors of the fowl. The pigeon’s meat  retaining its natural ideal dark texture and a meaty juicy  mouthfeel. Delicious pigeon that kept its enjoyable gamey taste vibrant. Another take on this bird also featured on this dish: a perfect pigeon-goose liver flan (you don’t see it on the picture because I ate it way before I thought of taking the picture..Rfaol..) which conception was simply stellar. On the right side of the pic, the little nutty-covered sphere you see was also pigeon’s meat surrounded by hazelnuts (well done). The dots are made of carrot cream (particularly delicious). There was also a jus of smoked tea and spices that — to my surprise — tasted like  the best  match to the meaty fowl. A bit as if I was telling you that a reduction made of smoked tea & spices  &  the meat’s sauce was far tastier and made more sense (in mouth)  than just the meat’s sauce alone. That was the case, here. 10/10

Nebraska beef – This serving  had  lots of flavors imparted into the beef  with the meat  having a  smooth melting texture, cooked equally thoughout,  fully meaty and shining  through pretty well due to non inclusion of  extraneous  ingredients and a judiciousness of the seasoning  that is right on. The sauce is rich and deep, a square of back and short rib (you don’t see it clearly on the picture) was tasty, the Japanese egg plant puree well done, the dots of black garlic adding a nice kick, the overall clever and highly satisfying. 9/10

Champagner Bellini was a collection of sweet creations around peach and  raspberry in various renditions:  sorbet, mousse, a ragout (of peach).  Champagne was additionally poured in the center of the plate. A ravishing dish (really beautiful to espy with its visually pleasant carefully constructed decorative features). Technically, not one single flaw. 9/10

This was the modern and refined take of the kitchen on the theme of a   banana split. The chocolate elements  had the accurate ratio of cream/chocolate and ideal texture (as firm as it should, with a rich  chocolate colour).  The chip of banana was packed with addictive fruity flavor. As with all creations of this kitchen: a lot of work is put in the details, the refinement and the delicious taste. A joyous inspired dessert 9/10

An array of top quality petits fours brought an end to this startling dinner experience. This was  really stunning  food after stunning food and the meal  joins my 1995 dinners at JR and Girardet, 2009 dinner at Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) + 2011 meal at L’Ambroisie in my all time favourite 3 star Michelin dining occurrences

 

Service: It’s amazing to see such a young staff excelling in professionalism and showing such a genuine desire to please their hosts.

Pros: A table of exception where everything is pure exciting perfection. It’s one of those few tables around the world, where I would be tempted to go back again and again. I’ll never be in a position to humanly eat at all existing restaurants in the world, but deep inside of me, if such survey could make sense, this table would get  my vote in the top 5 best restaurants of the globe.  And it’s not even expensive!

Cons: Nothing wrong.

Conclusion: That  was pure genius food. Sure, I love French food and International  cuisine (the cooking, here, is mainly high end Franco-Japanese but you can expect touches from other parts of the world as well) as well so I was seduced, but the real reason I felt for this restaurant lies in Chef Chistian Bau exceptional skills. Many Chefs are scared to go beyond the common boundaries. Or when they do it, it’s usually with inconsistencies. But Chef Bau goes ages ahead, blending an impressive quantity of ingredients with astonishing efficiency.  Bau is a Genius with a big G!

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER:  I gathered, from various   emails  received following this review, that some other  restaurants do offer equal cooking performance. When asked what they were, I was in for a surprise: most were tables I  was already familiar with and although offering Modern International cuisine,  the skills of those kitchen brigades never came close to half  of the skills showcased by Chef  Bau.   It was interesting to observe that the Chefs at the restaurants that are supposedly at the same level of  VGSB would do great with 3 to 5  ingredients,  but would perform poorly as soon as they would get to the count of  6 or  7  ingredients on the plate.  In contrast,  Chef Bau could align 8 to 15  elements with stunning precision and harmony as proven on this reported meal.  A reminder   that  what could look similar at first glance do not necessarily have the same depth of mastery behind them.